The History of Pizza – A pizza story

Pizza Hut's pizza. Photo via QSR

Pizza is undoubtedly one of the world’s most popular fast food. Approximately three billion pizzas are sold each year in the United States alone, an average of 46 slices per person. The delightful food makes us question and be grateful for the person that has created such a tasty masterpiece. Needless to say it is important for us to know the history of pizza for us to cherish it and to let it live on forever.

The origin of Pizza

Although pizza has been eaten in different forms over the centuries, the pizza that we know came into existence in Naples in the late 18th-century. Naples was back then one of the largest cities in Europe that was fuelled by overseas trade and a steady influx of peasants from the countryside.

As the country began to grow at a fast pace, the urban economy struggled to keep up with it causing a great number of city’s inhabitants to fall into poverty. These people worked as porters, messengers or simply as casual labourers in the country. The little amount of money they earn caused them to rush about in in search of work, finding food that that was cheap and easier to eat.

Luckily, what met all these needs was the pizza that was made by street vendors; rather than in shops. An obvious question that would rise is, how can pizza meet the needs of these people? The reason for this is that the pizzas back then could be cut to meet the customer’s budget or appetite. They were defined as inexpensive, easy-to-find ingredients with plenty of flavour. While the simplest were simply topped with nothing more than garlic, lard and salt, the rest included of caciocavallo (a cheese made from horse’s milk), cecenielli (whitebait) or basil, with some being topped with tomatoes. Nevertheless, the inexpensive features and their unpopularity became the reason why it attracted more customers.

The pizza that was eaten by indigent people was often denigrated as ‘disgusting’ for a long time, especially by the foreign visitors. Infact, the inventor of the telegraph, Samuel Morse described the pizza as a ‘species of the most nauseating cake … covered over with slices of pomodoro or tomatoes, and sprinkled with little fish and black pepper and I know not what other ingredients, it altogether looks like a piece of bread that has been taken reeking out of the sewer’ in 1831. Along with these, pizza was completely ignored and had failed to appear in the first cookbooks of the late 19th century as well.

How pizza became famous: 

Pizza’s became entirely famous after the Italian unification when the King Umberto I and Queen Margherita grew tired of the complicated French dishes they were served for breakfast, lunch and dinner while on a visit to Naples in 1889. When local specialities were immediately summoned to prepare for the queen, the chef of pizzaiolo, Raffaele Esposito cooked three sorts of pizza: one with lard, caciocavallo and basil; another with cecenielli; and a third with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil.

The queen was delighted on how the pizza’s turned out and had her favorite pizza, – the last of the three – named after the queen herself in honor as pizza margherita. Due to this, the pizza became something not only the needy people could eat, but something a royal family could enjoy as well. Pizza eventually transformed from a local into a truly national dish.

Pizza became overseas when a growing number of Neapolitans moved northwards in search of work in the 1930s, taking their cuisine with them. It later on accelerated by war and then tourism; which made pizza a truly Italian dish. More pizza restaurants were opened as the tourists became curious about Italian food, introducing new ingredients in response to local tastes and the higher prices that customers were now willing to pay. Pizza without a doubt quickly spread throughout Italy afterwards.

The second home of Pizza:

Pizza found it’s second home in America by the end of the 19th century when Italians migrated to the country and had opened the first pizzeria, Lombardi’s in New York City. Pizzas were quickly taken up by enterprising restaurateurs and was adapted to reflect local tastes, identities and needs as well.

Shortly after the Second World War, in an attempt to attract more customers to his newly made restaurant, 
a Texan named Ike Sewell claimed to offer a much ‘heartier’ version of the dish, complete with a deeper, thicker crust and richer, more abundant toppings – usually with cheese at the bottom and a mountain of chunky tomato sauce heaped on top of it. In time, similar updated versions of these pizza’s were introduced in different states of the country.

Pizza became radically transformed later on in the United States introducing two famous changes. The first was the ‘domestication’ of pizza. As the decades passed, fridges and freezers were invented and became increasingly common, demanding for the growth of ‘convenient’ foods – prompting the development of the frozen pizza. The second change was the ‘commercialisation’ of pizza. This was due to the growing availability of cars and motorcycles making it possible to deliver freshly cooked food to customers’ doors. Pizza was at the top of the dishes to be served through this method.

Eventually companies customized pizza’s in their special way to appeal the customer’s desire leading to the expansion of their companies to abroad. Some of the famous pizza companies include of ‘Domino’s’ – which used to be Dominik’s – founded by Tom and James Monaghan in 1960 and Pizza Hut founded by Dan and Frank Carney in 1958 – known for it’s Italian American cuisine menu.

Although today’s pizza is relatively different from those that were used at first, pizza is still recognisable as pizza and is loved worldwide by numerous people.