No need for presentation. There is no doubt pizza is the most famous food in the world, there is no country that does not serve it (even if in its own version), and there is no person who does not know it. It is eaten by the youngest to the oldest. 

It also has no contraindications, except if you are allergic to gluten but that can also be substituted.

In the United States alone, some 3 billion pizzas are sold every year, an average of 46 slices per person. 

A pizza consists of a dough covered with tomato and cheese, although other ingredients can be added, varied or replaced.

Perhaps because of the simplicity and accessibility of the ingredients. We can find pizza anywhere in the world.

However, Naples, Italy is where the art of making pizzas was born and lives. It is not by chance that in 2017 the traditional art of Neapolitan pizzaiolo was declared a UNESCO intangible heritage.

Have you ever wondered how pizza was born, how it became known all over the world, what is the official recipe for pizza? 


Related article: Italian food: One day eating like an Italian


In this article I will tell you some stories about pizza:


Where does the word pizza come from?

  • To press, to crush

According to the etymological dictionary of the Italian language, the word pizza comes from the words pigiare, or pestare; and synonymous with schiacciare in Italian which means to push, step and crush. It probably refers to the dough that is then cooked.

In that sense the word pizza means something crushed or stepped on.

  • Pisar 

It can also come from the word in Spanish “pisar”. Naples was a port where people from many different backgrounds arrived and so constantly acquired new words. 

  • A piece of bread

Other scholars say that the origin of the word could be German. Because they compare the derivation from Old German bizzo to pizza. In modern German it is bissen and it means slice or bite. A piece or bite of bread.

  • Pita

There is also the theory that the word pizza comes from the word pita, which in many countries with Arab influence is a flattened piece of bread the size of a hand, that is eaten stuffed. 

the pizza

We do not know what the etymology of pizza really is. What we do know is that the first references to pizza speak of a cake or dough that can be sweet, salty or stuffed. Because the word pizza at that time referred to cakes in general.

History of Pizza

Probably, pizza is something that came up naturally. Agriculture began around 8,000 years ago in the geographical area known as the ‘Fertile Crescent’. This area lies between Iran and Iraq and it was here that wheat was ‘domesticated’ for the first time in history. 

the old pizza tradition

It would not be unusual for someone to have thought of putting flour mixed with water on a metal plate and that on the fire, perhaps with some ingredient on top. 

But let’s go to the facts. 

In Sardinia, Italy, the remains of 3,000 year old leavened bread were found, which could be the first attempts by mankind to bake a pizza. 

First mention in history

The poet Virgil (70-19 BC) mentions a raised bread in his poem Aeneid.

Virgil

Avean poche vivande; e quelle poche

Gran forme di focacce e di farrate

In vece avean di tavole e di quadre,

E la terra medesma e i solchi suoi

Ai pomi agresti eran fiscelle e nappi.

Virgilio

They had little food, and those few

Large forms of focaccia and spelt

They had boards and squares in place,

And the land itself and its furrows

On the rural knobs, there were fish and tassels.

virgilio

An edible dish

pizza on a stone four

From the beginning, pizza was cooked in the form of a plate so that food could be served on it. Perhaps to fight hunger and fill up with bread, as we sometimes do today.

Time passes and habits are maintained.

Why was it born in Naples?

Because the population was very poor and needed consistent and affordable food. A population that in the 18th and 19th centuries was so dense that it had to eat in the streets.

The daughter of the focaccia

Focaccia means in English ‘loaf’, which refers to a large loaf of bread. It is almost certain that the ancestor of pizza was the focaccia of Roman times. At that time it was very common to prepare focaccia made with spelt, a particular type of wheat used by the Romans (the word “flour” comes from the Latin farris, spelt). 

The poet Virgil tells us that the farmers used to grind the spelt grains, sift the flour obtained, mix it with water, aromatic herbs and salt, and grind it to make it fine, giving it the classic round shape. The libum, or placenta, obtained in this way, was cooked with the heat from the ashes of the fireplace.

Before pizza as we know it, we had to discover America

The pizza was initially seasoned with white sauce. 

“The most ordinary pizzas, called with garlic and oil, have the oil as a condiment, and on it is sprinkled, in addition to salt, oregano and minced garlic cloves. Others are covered with grated cheese and seasoned with lard, and then basil leaves are placed on top. The former are usually topped with tiny fish; the latter with thin slices of mozzarella. Sometimes we use sliced ham, pomidoro (tomato), arselle, etc. Sometimes, when the paste is folded over, it forms what is called calzone”.

Francesco De Bourcard, Usi e costumi di Napoli e contorni descritti e dipinti (1853), Vol. II, page 124

A fundamental ingredient of modern pizza is the tomato, but it arrived in Italy from Peru after the discovery of America.

When it arrived in Europe, the tomato was used as an ornamental piece and was considered toxic.

It took more than a century for the tomato to be accepted and added to the pizza. It is now the 18th century and we are approaching the birth of the Margarita pizza.

Birth of the Pizza Margarita

The extreme poverty of Naples and the fact that pizza is the local dish par excellence kept writers and food historians away from pizza for a long time. 

Everything changed with the unification of Italy. It is now 1800, with King Umberto I at the head. The King’s wife was called Margherita of Savoy.

margherita di savoia

Legend has it that in June 1889 Queen Margherita visited Naples. At that time, a pizzaiolo named Raffaele Esposito from the Pizzeria ‘Brandi’ wanted to pay her homage. And he did so with a pizza made with ingredients in the colours of the new Italian flag: green, white and red. For this he carefully chose basil or basil, buffalo mozzarella and tomato. 

Others say that this type of pizza already existed, and it was the queen who noticed that those were the colours of the Italian flag. So they named the pizza after her.

Pizza and the Three Musketeers

The French novelist Alexandre Dumas, the author of ‘The Three Musketeers’ was in Naples in 1830 and wrote that ”there are pizzas with oil, with different fats, with cheese, with tomatoes, and pizzas with different fish’’.

This is one of the first literary testimonies we have about pizza.

Worldwide expansion of pizza

While Italy was in the process of unification, and when the tomato, mozzarella and basil pizza was being named Pizza Margherita, there was a strong emigration of Italian citizens to various countries of the world, especially to the United States.

In 1905 the first American pizzeria was opened in New York. In the 1920s and 1930s, they became restaurants and spread throughout the United States. Ike Sewell and Riccardo in 1943 created a Chicago-style pizza at Pizzeria Uno. 

During World War II, the soldiers brought with them a taste for pizza from Italy, accelerating its popularity. The first commercial pizza mix was “Roman Pizza Mix”, produced in Worcester, Massachusetts by Frank A. Fiorello.

The art of the Neapolitan pizza maker, a UNESCO intangible heritage

Since 2017 the traditional art of Neapolitan pizzaiolo has been recognised as part of the cultural heritage of mankind. 

pizza in napoli

It is a culinary practice that includes several stages, including the preparation of the dough, a turning movement made by the pizza chef and baking in a wood-fired oven.

The art of the Neapolitan pizza maker was born in Naples, where some 3000 pizzaiuoli live and work. The recognition of UNESCO brings pizza, one of the most loved and consumed foods in the world, to the Olympus of national and international cuisine and identifies the art of the Neapolitan pizza maker as an expression of a culture.

Pizza reversals around the world, from chocolate to sushi pizza

There are around 500 styles of pizza in the world. The site pizzarecipe.org organised them on its website.

By looking at how many pizzas there are and how varied they are, we realise how much pizza is used around the world as an eating dish, to be seasoned with the preferred ingredients of the country where it is found.  

Africa 

Here the pizzas are usually the spiciest in the world, because at the same time as using tomato sauce, chili sauce is used. For example, the Chicken Pizza, with jam, goat cheese, chicken, hot peppers, cardamom, and fennel.

China

There are places where pizza is known only recently, such as in China, where the first pizzerias opened in the 1990s. Until then, cheese and tomatoes were almost unknown. 

Therefore, instead of tomato sauce, an Asian sauce is often used. Since 2000, pizza has become increasingly popular and more and more chains and restaurants have opened there. 

A rarity of Chinese pizza is the ”pizza with pork chili sauce” with hoisin sauce, glazed pork, roasted sesame seeds, spring onions, garlic.

United States

In America, many different variants of pizza have emerged. Some are quite similar to the Neapolitan pizza types, but use much more cheese. For example the New York Slice pizza is the most popular and most similar to a Neapolitan margarita. Other variants, however, are hardly based on their Italian ancestors. So there is the Chicago pizza, which reminds more of a cake. Pizza Hut and Domino’s are the largest pizza delivery services and restaurant operators in the US.

Japan

In Japan, pizza has been known since the 1970s. It is almost always served with tabasco sauce and seafood as a topping. Often, side dishes such as chips, salad or soup are served. Sometimes, instead of tomato sauce, mayonnaise is also used as a base. In Japan, there are also some pizzas for dessert. These are sweet and covered with chocolate, honey or strawberries.

Chashu pork pizza: Tomatoes, miso sauce, pork slices, leek.

Cheese and Honey Pizza: Cream cheese, Gorgonzola, Parmesan, Small cherry tomatoes, Parsley, Honey.

Norway

It is the country where the highest percentage of pizzas per person is consumed. Pizza is the unofficial national dish. There is also the so-called traditional pizza called “lørdagspizza“, which means Sunday pizza. Lørdagspizza is covered with tomato sauce, minced meat and lots of cheese and baked in the pan. Besides lørdagspizza, a lot of frozen pizza is eaten.

Russia

Similar to China’s example, pizza in Russia did not spread until the 1990s. Around the year 2000, the first Italian pizzerias were opened. After that, a true pizza culture was born. And more and more exotic and expensive ingredients such as truffle, caviar, dried meat and aged cheese have been used. Wealthy Russian customers became enthusiastic and fell in love with Italian pizza. One example is the salmon and caviar pizza: sour cream, smoked salmon, black caviar, golden caviar, freshly chopped dill, onion, olive oil.

Classic Neapolitan pizza recipe

Although there may be as many versions of pizza as there are pizzerias in the world, there is only one Neapolitan pizza that is accepted by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (Association of the real Neapolitan Pizza)

the pizza logo

This recipe is followed by the best pizzerias in Naples. Walking through their alleys, you often find this symbol on the windows of the pizzerias:

This logo indicates that the pizzeria follows the discipline of the real Neapolitan pizza. 

Strict rules must be followed for the preparation of the Neapolitan pizza. The association says that the slightest change of recipe could alter the quality of the final product. To be able to use the logo it is obligatory for all ingredients to be from Campana. 

A typical and international dish

Although born in Naples, the word pizza is known in almost all languages of the world and is part – with its variations – of international gastronomy, with adaptations to the preferred ingredients of all countries where it is consumed.

Pizza was born as a poor man’s meal until the 19th century and that means that we have few written records of it. With the event or legend of Queen Margherita and the pizza later baptised ‘Margherita’ changed everything. With a pizza carrying the colours of the Italian flag. 

There is a typical and official Neapolitan pizza. This recipe with the ingredients from Naples can be baked and obtain a pizza like the one we would find in the streets of Naples. 

Pizza is and will remain an everyday meal, a meal that unites and adapts to all tastes and cultures.