The History of Pizza
Although voracious connoisseurs can put down numerous saucy slices in short order, pizza wasn’t completed in a vacuum, at least not an Italian political vacuum.
The recorded history of pizza begins with a Greek settlement founded around 600 B.C., in the 1700s and early 1800s; Naples was a growing waterfront city. Actually an independent kingdom, it was well known for its working poor population, or lazzaroni. History.com shared that Carol Helstosky, author of “Pizza: A Global History” and associate professor of history at the University of Denver stated, “The closer you got to the bay, the more dense their population, and much of their living was done outdoors, sometimes in homes that were little more than a room.”
Unlike the well-off minority, these Neapolitans needed economical food that was able to be consumed on their short work breaks. So, pizza flatbreads with a variety of toppings, sold by street vendors or informal eating venues for any meal fit the bill. Helstosky also was said to have noted that “Judgmental Italian authors often called their eating habits disgusting.” These early pizzas featured many of the favored garnishes popular today, such as cheese, tomatoes, garlic, oil, and anchovies.
Pizza Popularity Grew
After the unification of Italy in 1861, King Umberto I and Queen Margherita visited Naples in 1889. the legend is that while traveling they became bored with the French haute cuisine they had been enjoying and requested a selection of pizzas from the city’s Pizzeria Brandi, Da Pietro pizzeria’s successor, established in 1760. The type enjoyed most by the queen was described as pizza mozzarella, a pizza with the soft white cheese, and red tomato toppings with green basil garnish . (It was probably no coincidence that her favorite happened to feature the Italian flag’s colors.) Therefore, as the story goes, from that time forward, the specific topping mix was named pizza Margherita.
Queen Margherita’s blessing may have been the catalyst for an Italy-wide pizza craze. However, flatbreads with toppings weren’t new for the lazzaroni or their time. Ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks had historically consumed pizza well before it was established in Italy. Their version was prepared with herbs and oil, similar to modern focaccia.) Even so, pizza would be largely unknown beyond Naples’ borders until the 1940s.
The Beginning of Global Popularity
Across the ocean, though, United States immigrants from Naples were reproducing their trusty, crusty pizzas in New York and other American cities, including Trenton, Boston, St. Louis, Chicago and New Haven. The Neapolitans needed factory jobs, as did countless Europeans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; they weren’t setting out to make a culinary declaration. Consequently quickly, the flavors and fragrances of pizza began to captivate non-Italians and non-Neapolitans.
Pizza in the United States
The first documented pizzeria in the United States was on Spring Street in Manhattan, named G. (for Gennaro) Lombardi’s, and was certified to sell pizza in 1905. (Before then, pizza was made at home or provided by unlicensed suppliers.) Lombardi’s, still open today – though no longer at its 1905 address, still uses their original oven.
Any pizza fan is familiar with the ongoing heated debates over who makes the best slice in town, but critics recognize three East Coast pizzarias as still producing quality pies in the old tradition: Mario’s (Arthur Opportunity, the Bronx, opened 1919); Totonno’s (Coney Island, Brooklyn, opened 1924); and Pepe’s (New Haven, opened 1925).
As Italian-Americans, along with their cuisine, traveled west, out from city to suburb, particularly after World War II, pizza’s appeal in the United States flourished. Not viewed as an “ethnic” dish, it was progressively recognized as a fast, fun food. Moreover, Regional, Americanized variations emerged, ultimately to include California-gourmet pizzas featuring toppings from grilled chicken to smoked salmon.
Postwar pizza finally made it home to Italy and beyond. Pizzas popularity grew globally, in some part just because it was perceived as American. As pizza developed to reflect local tastes, toppings ran the gamut from Gouda cheese in Curacao to hard boiled eggs in Brazil. Soon international franchises of American chains like Pizza Hut and Domino’s were flourishing in about 60 countries.
The Continued Evolution of the History of Pizza
Therefore, with imagination the only limitation to the variations on the traditional pizza pie, it can be safely assumed this delicacy is here to stay! The combinations are as endless as a person’s culinary creativity; consequently pizza’s legacy will continue to be enjoyed through future generations.
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