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Food History

The Origins of Pizza

Napoli Pizza

Pizza as we know it was born in southwestern Italy’s Campagna region, in Naples but, in reality, flatbreads similar to the modern focaccia were already popular with ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks.

Between the 17 and 1800s, Naples was an independent kingdom thriving on dense populations of poor working classes with small homes, most of which were nothing more than a single room. For this reason, the Neapolitans needed inexpensive food options they could afford and eat quickly during work breaks and pizza, which they referred to as flatbread, met this need perfectly. The flatbread would include various toppings of their likings and they would eat it any time of the day. The most popular toppings amongst early Neapolitans consisted of tomatoes, cheese, oil, anchovies, and garlic. The flatbread was sold informally by street vendors and casual restaurants so that it would be accessible to the lower classes as it was not perceived as a suitable food for the more well-off.

Later on in 1889, by the time flatbread evolved into pizza, King Umberto I and Queen Margherita paid a visit to Naples for the occasion of Italy’s unification in 1861. Legend has it that the Royals sought something different than the French cuisine they were used to, so they asked for an assortment of pizzas from the famous Neapolitan Pizzeria Brandi. After tasting different pizzas, Queen Margherita’s favourite was the Pizza Mozzarella, topped with soft white cheese, tomatoes and green basil and from then on, the pizza was re-named after her Majesty as the Pizza Margherita we know today. The Queen’s blessing sparked a craze for pizza, but for not much further than Naples, at least not until the 1940s.

Neapolitans who immigrated to the United States took the recipe with them and started replicating crusty pizzas in New York, Boston, Chicago, and Trenton, amongst other cities they were settling in. Whilst this was not their primary aim, as the purpose of their trip was to find factory jobs, it did not take long for pizzas to blow up in the United States too. G. Lombardi’s in Manhattan was one of the first documented licensed pizzerias in the United States, in 1905.

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