When you hear “pizza”, you probably think “Italian”, right? But did pizza actually originate in Italy? Let’s find out…
What is pizza really? Getting to the basics I think we can agree that pizza is round flatbread with other ingredients on top, and that simplicity is at the heart of why we love it so much.
People have been preparing bread since the stoneage but it was the Ancient Greeks who baked a kind of flatbread called plakous that they topped the bread with items like herbs, onions and garlic, which starts to resemble what we call a pizza. When we get to the 6th century B.C. we know that Persian soldiers prepared flatbread and topped it with cheese and dates. Regions with a notable history of topping flatbread with other foods include Italy, Greece, Persia, Spain, and Turkey.
In the late 18th century, a couple of hundred years after tomatoes were first brought to Europe, the poor people around Naples began adding tomato to their flatbread, and this common dish gained popularity due to it’s simple ingredients and a cheap way to feed families and workers. And thus the incarnation of flatbread with toppings known as “pizza” was born.
It isn’t until 1889, legend has it, that the modern pizza is truly born, an open faced pie made with tomato sauce and mozzarella, given to us by the baker Raffaele Esposito. In honor of King Umberto and Queen Margherita’s visit to Naples he made a patriotic pizza topped with mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes, reflecting the colors of the Italian flag, and thus this became known as a Margherita.
Fast forward to the 20th Century and it’s Italian migrants to the US who open pizzerias and start the American love of pizza.
The Origin of the Word “Pizza”
The word “pizza” first showed up in the year 997 AD in Medieval Latin document where the son of a feudal lord promises 12 pizzas to the local bishop as a yearly homage. There is no 100% accurate definite etymology of the word although the general consensus is that it comes from the Greek word “pitta” where pitta is a thin, round, flatbread baked in a hot wood-fired oven, or the Langobardic word, the ancient German language from northern Italy, “bizzo/pizzo” meaning “mouthful” or “bite”.
Pizza as we know it today
After World War II, pizzas popularity boomed in the United States and was seen as a new, fast, food eventually transitioning towards non-Neapolitan deep-dish variations which now included a large selection of topping from BBQ chicken to pineapple and ham.
Soon take-out and home delivery became the norm, with chains like Pizza Hut and Dominos expanding into cities around the world.
There has been a recent shift back towards the traditional thinner naples-style pizza and the use of high quality ingredients, favouring taste over quantity, and this has seen a boom in domestic pizza ovens as homeowners seek to recreate the Mediterranean lifestyle in their own homes.
The first pizzeria in the United States?
Lombardi’s in New York City’s Little Italy, founded by Gennaro Lombardi in 1905, lays claim to have founded the first pizzeria in the US using his skills he learnt in Naples. They are also credited with developing the New York Style pizza, which have a large crust but a pliable base that can be folded, and these are often sold ‘by the slice’.