Pizza is a food with very ancient origins. Historians speculate that as far back as Etruscan times, people were eating a form a pizza. Pizza was born as a poor man’s dish, since it was simple to prepare and required only the simplest of ingredients, available both now and in ancient times: flour, oil, salt, yeast and a wood fired oven. Although pizza has become a popular dish all around the world, it is generally regarded as having its origins in Italy, and specifically in Naples. In fact, when referring to the round form of pizza topped with tomato and mozzarella, the pizza Margherita, many people know it simply as a Neapolitan pizza. As would be expected, the real origins of pizza cannot be traced back through the twists of history.
In additional to Naples, other cities in Southern Italy also stake claim to having invented the pizza. Nevertheless, without adding to this polemic, we will simply say a few words about the more recent history of the pizza. The first real pizza was probably made around 1600 BC, the result of the boundless gastronomic creativity we still love in Italy today. Originally, this ancient pizza was probably seasoned with garlic, lard and salt, and perhaps other herbs. The first writing records of the word pizza date back to the vulgar Latin of Gaeta in 997 AD and Penne in 1200 AD, and subsequently to that of other Italian cities like Rome, L’Aquila, Pesaro. In the 16th century, the name “pizza” was given to a flattened bread, deriving from a local pronunciation of the word “pitta”.
In no uncertain terms however, it was the auspicious arrival of the tomato that gave birth to the modern pizza and its most famous variety, the pizza Margherita. Imported from Peru after the discovery of America, the tomato was first used in sauces, cooked with salt and basil, before someone came up with the idea of putting it on pizza, unwittingly inventing pizza as we know it today. So begins the era of the modern pizza, from Naples to North America. With the large waves of immigration in the 19th century, it was Italians immigrating to America that brought their trusted culinary traditions with them. The historic marriage of pizza with mozzarella occurred when a Neapolitan pizza chef, named Raffaele Esposito, prepared the famous pizza with tomato and mozzarella, in honor of Queen Margherita of Savoy, the wife of King Umberto I of Italy.
At the request of the Queen, the pizzaiolo prepared three pizzas: one with mustinicola, a marinara pizza and a pizza with tomato, mozzarella and basil, inspired by the Italian flag. The Queen liked this last pizza so much, that the pizzaiolo was inspired to name his creation after the Queen herself. It was from this fortuitous event that pizza Margherita conquered the world. Following the Second World War, pizza once again spread it wings and traveled in the hearts of Italians emigrating abroad to search for better fortunes. As a result of this new wave of emigration and rising Italian influence, the city with the highest consumption of pizza in the world became New York, followed by Sao Paulo in Brazil, where over 30 million pizzas are consumed each month.