Pizza Didn’t Originate Where You Think It Did. While many consider pizza to be Italian in origin, its roots descend deep, deep into the world of the Ancient Greeks. Way back when Zeus was worshiped and parents left their unwanted children to die of exposure, the Ancient Greeks would take their bread and cover it with oils, herbs, and cheese. They called it a pita (p?ta), which means pie.
Later, the Romans would take thin sheets of dough made of flour and top it with cheese and honey. This was called placenta, which makes a delicious meal sound absolutely horrid. While these are not “pizzas” in the traditional sense, they do provide the framework for what we consider the modern pizza.
But Modern Pizza DID Originate in Italy! For a long time Europeans thought tomatoes were poisonous, and it wasn’t until the late 18th century when the poor people of Naples would put tomatoes on flat bread. This quickly gained in popularity, leading to curbside peddlers selling pizza from open air carts before making the leap to genuine restaurants. In 1830, French writer Alexandre Dumas wrote of how “the humble people in Naples” would flavor their flatbreads with “oil, lard, tallow, cheese, tomato, or anchovies.”
The modern pizza, comprised of dough, oils, tomato sauce, and cheese, is said to have its primary origin in Naples, Italy in 1889. The Queen consort of Italy, Margherita of Savoy, was presented with a pizza made by Neapolitan chef Raffaele Esposito made with the colors of the Italian flag: tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil. This was coined the “Margherita Pizza” and helped pave the way for the popular form of pizza we know and love today.
While variations of a pizza involving cheese or sauce have been around for over two thousand years, it was Esposito who helped to usher in its popularity. So next time you bite down into a greasy slice of New York pizza or chomp your way through a thick, tasty piece of Chicago-style deep dish, say a silent thank you to Raffaele Esposito for helping to make it possible.
Pizza Made Its Way to the States in the 19th Century. Who do we Americans have to thank for bringing pizza to our beloved United States? Why, immigrants, of course! Pizza became popular in cities that had a large Italian population (for obvious reasons), One seller in Chicago mimicked traditional Neapolitan methods of selling by walking up and down the streets selling pizza from a large metal tub he carried on his head.
The first pizzeria in the United States comes courtesy of Gennaro Lombardi, who opened Lombardi’s Pizzeria Napoletana in New York City in 1905. Located at 53 ½ Spring Street, Lombardi was forced to “evolve” the way he made his pizza, forgoing the traditional wood-fired ovens and mozzarella made from Buffalo milk to coal ovens and mozzarella made from cow’s milk.
Pizza Has Its Own Foundation to Determine Authentic Neapolitan Pizza. Naples is pretty serious about their pizza. So serious, in fact, that in 1984 they created the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, or True Neapolitan Pizza Association, to set forth a series of rules that one must follow to be considered a marinara or margherita pizza – the only true types of pizza.
The rules are varied, and include items such as the proper temperature at which to cook the pizza, for how long, and how thick it is. One of the more interesting rules requires pizza makers, which must have at least three years of attested pizza making experience, to only use their hands to knead the dough. No rolling pins or other mechanical means can be used to prepare the dough. College admissions applications aren’t that strict.
Bonus Fact! Why is Marinara Called Marinara? One of the more popular types of pizzas is one topped with standard marinara sauce. In fact, marinara and margherita are considered the only two “true” types of pizzas among Neapolitans, and in “Da Michele” in Via C. Sersale these are the only two types of pizzas served.
Marinara, which is a pizza composed of tomato, oregano, garlic and extra virgin olive oil, has two theories concerning its origin, and believe it or not, neither have anything to do with seafood! One theory states that it was made by the wives of the seaman, or la marinara, when the sailors would return from the sea; another theory states that it was made by cooks aboard Neapolitan ships because the high acid content prevented it from spoiling so quickly.