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Pizza, a universally beloved dish, has become a staple in the culinary world, with its irresistible combination of dough, tomato sauce, cheese, and a myriad of toppings. While it might seem like a modern Italian phenomenon, the origins of pizza can be traced back centuries, revealing a rich and fascinating history that transcends borders and cultures.
The roots of pizza can be found in the ancient world, with civilizations like the Greeks and Egyptians (inventors of yeast) creating flatbreads with toppings. The Greeks, in particular, had a dish known as plakous, consisting of flatbreads topped with herbs, onion, and garlic. This early form of pizza laid the foundation for the culinary delight we know today.
The Roman Connection
The ancient Romans further contributed to the evolution of pizza. They enjoyed a flatbread known as picea, which was seasoned with olive oil and herbs. Romans would often top their picea with a variety of ingredients, similar to the modern pizza we know. These early versions of pizza were a symbol of the simplicity and practicality that would later define this dish.
Naples: The Birthplace of Modern Pizza
The most significant transformation took place in the 16th century with the arrival of the tomato from the New World. The humble tomato, once thought to be poisonous, found its way onto the flatbreads, giving birth to the classic Margherita pizza. In particular, the city of Naples holds a special place in the history of pizza. By the 18th century, flatbreads with tomato toppings had become popular among the poor in Naples.
Legend has it that in 1889, in honor of Queen Margherita of Savoy, pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito created a pizza featuring tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil – the colors of the Italian flag. This iconic Margherita pizza not only satisfied the queen’s palate but also solidified Naples as the birthplace of modern pizza.
Pizza Conquers the World
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Italian immigrants carried the pizza tradition to the United States. The first pizzeria in the U.S., Lombardi’s, opened its doors in New York City in 1905. From there, pizza’s popularity skyrocketed, evolving into various regional styles, including New York, Chicago, and Neapolitan.
Today, pizza is a global phenomenon, enjoyed by people from all walks of life and adapted to suit diverse tastes. Whether you prefer the traditional Neapolitan style, the deep-dish goodness of Chicago, or the thin crust of New York, pizza has become a culinary canvas for creativity. In fact, many Italians are horrified to find non-traditional ingredients on their beloved pizza when they travel to other countries. Case in point: the popular pineapple, Canadian bacon combination so popular in the U.S.
The origins of pizza reveal a fascinating journey that spans centuries and continents. From ancient flatbreads to the bustling pizzerias of Naples, and the immigrant communities of the United States, pizza has evolved into a symbol of cultural fusion and culinary delight. As we savor each delicious slice, let’s appreciate the rich history that has made pizza the beloved dish it is today.
Interesting Pizza Facts…
-Port’Alba in Naples, Italy is the oldest pizzeria in the world opened in 1738.
-The most expensive pizza in the world was served in Agropoli by Renato Viola and cost a whopping 8,300 euros!
– On average, Italians consume 8 kg of pizza per person each year whereas in the US, the average is 10 kg.
– In 2017, Neapolitan pizza was added to the UNESCO “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” list.
– According to the Association of “Verace Pizza Napoletana”, the minimum leavening time for pizza dough should be 8 hours but no more than 24.
– The median price for a pizza margherita in Italy will cost you about 6 euros whereas the same pizza in Switzerland will cost you three times as much.