Pizza is probably one of the most important, influential and delicious human inventions. Have you ever looked lovingly at a charred crust with melted cheese and sauce and wondered, “Who was the person who thought to put these ingredients together in such a way? I wish I could thank them”.
We’ve all been there.
Here is a brief history of pizza making so you can get your culinary and history answers in one stomach-rumbling session.
From Antiquity and Beyond
Many ancient cultures actually produced something like what we know of as pizza. They would bake flatbreads and put toppings on them like herbs, onion and garlic. The word ‘pizza’ was first documented as early as AD 997 in Gaeta, a province in ancient Greece that is in now Central Italy. It then spread to other parts of Central and Southern Italy.
The Persians had a go at pizza making in the 6th century BC when the soldiers in King Darius I’s armies baked flatbreads with cheese and dates on top of their battle shields.
Some scholars even argue that modern pizza was first made more than 2000 years ago when Roman soldiers added cheese and olive oil to matzah, the unleavened bread that the Jews of Egypt made in their escape across the Red Sea.
Napoli: the Pizza We All Know and Love
In 16th century Naples, pizza was also known as a galette flatbread. It got its reputation as a dish for the poor people to be sold in the street. If you’ve ever been to Naples, not much has changed.
Once Europeans started trading with Americans, tomatoes were brought beautifully into the fold. At around the same time, oil and fish were also added to Napolitano street pizzas. In 1843, French writer Alexandre Dumas was visiting Naples and he described the diverse range of pizza toppings available in the city.
Pizza Margherita and its Romantic Origins
Legend has it that on 11 June 1889, pizza maker Raffaele Esposito created the “Pizza Margherita” to honour the Queen consort of Italy, Margherita of Savoy. He topped the pizza with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil in order to represent the national colours of Italy.
Tomatoes: the Game Changers
Once poor Italians realised that tomatoes were not poisonous, they started using them as toppings and the modern pizza could finally develop and thrive. Not only did the dish gain popularity locally, but soon, pizza was becoming a regular tourist attraction. Posh visitors to Naples would venture into the poor areas of the city in search of this local delicacy.
Marinara and Margherita—the Purists
Pizza was sold from open-air stands and out of pizza bakeries until about 1830, but many pizzerias keep this tradition alive today. You can get a taste for this at Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba in Naples, widely regarded as the city’s first pizzeria.
Some purists believe there are only two true pizzas – the Margherita, which we’ve already discussed, and the marinara – and they’ll only serve those. In fact, most Italians prefer the ‘pure’ pizzas to the newer concoctions. Marinara is the older of the two. It’s topped with tomato, oregano, garlic and extra virgin olive oil, and is so named because it was traditionally made by ‘la marinara’, the seaman’s wife, for her seafaring husband.
By the time pizza was at its finest in Italy, Italian immigrants were already bringing it across the ocean to America, where it became popularised and was updated with that eager American spirit. And the rest, as they say, is history.