Pizza is, without a doubt, the world’s most beloved fast food in the world, no matter where you go. From schools and homes to corners and streets, more than a mind-boggling 3 billion pizzas are sold every year in the States, according to some estimates.
Like everything else, it wasn’t always like this with pizza, it’s reign of dominance around the world has a story of its own. And as pizza-lovers, it’s our utmost duty to know about how pizza came to take over our globe with ancient roots and antiquated beginnings transcending scores of cultures. Let’s start.
History of the Word Pizza
The first ever official mention of the word ‘pizza’ can be traced back to 997 A.D. in the central Italian city of Gaeta along with different other parts of Southern and Central Italy in succession. Only the Italians knew about pizza and was loved by its emigrants who traveled out of their homeland to other parts of the world.
It wasn’t until after the Second World War that pizza became a part of the global fast food scene along with other Italian foods, mainly because of the immense cultural influence of Italian Americans.
The Origins and Earliest Variants
History of this amazing fast food originates in the ancient times when various distant cultures of the old started topping flatbreads with delicious savory garnishes and coatings served as a tasty but affordable meals for the common folk.
Most of the historical facts indicate that we as humans have been eating pizza in one shape or another for hundreds of years as far back as the recorded history can go. Italian and French archaeologists discovered an ancient bread in the Italian island of Sardinia that was later found to have been baked some 7,000 years ago.
This clearly indicates that food that resembled pizza have been in use by humans throughout our history as a species. There are numerous historical records, which show that various people spread throughout the world have been adding things to bread, enhancing its flavor and using different ingredients to improve its flavor.
Focaccia was probably one of the earliest precursors or versions of pizza, known to the ancient Romans as panis focacius. It was essentially a flatbread to which they later added basic toppings too. The modern version of pizza was derived from such flatbread dishes at the bakeries of Naples in Italy during the late eighteenth or nineteenth century.
Early Versions of Pizza from Other Regions
Troops working under the command of Darius the Great, 6th century King of Persia’s ancient Achaemenid Empire, used to prepare a special meal using baked flatbread and heating them with cheese and date toppings on top of their shields.
Flavored with delicious seasoning of cheese, herbs, garlic and onion, the citizens of Ancient Greece used to make a pizza-resembling, flat bread meal known as plakous. Apart from that, Aeneid from the year 19 B.C. mentions a folklore that when the Harpy queen Celaeno prophesized that until the days Trojans are forced by their hunger to eat their own ‘tables’, they would never find peace.
Later on, Aeneas and his fellows ate a meal that had round flatbread with vegetable toppings. This was when they realized that the flat breads they ate were the original ‘tables’ Celaeno predicted they would eat.
Several analysts also suggest that modern pizza has its origins in pizzarelle, a kosher meal for cookies during Passover, which the Roman Jews ate after coming back from the synagogue on that particular bread.
History and Beginnings of Pizza
During the sixteenth century in Naples, people referred to a local galette flatbread as pizza. It was a common dish, sold in alleyways for the poor people and it didn’t enter into the mainstream kitchen cookbooks for a very long time.
Later during the wake towards the 19th century, people started using different toppings with pizza like tomatoes, used oil and even fish. Alexandre Dumas first described all the different toppings used with pizza in his 1843 book Le Corricolo.
According to one story that’s very common, Raffaele Esposito, a Neapolitan pizza-maker, made ‘Pizza Margherita’ to honor the Italian Queen consort Margherita of Savoy on 11 June, 1889. The ‘Pizza Margherita’ was prepared with a garnish of basil, tomatoes and mozzarella in the specific order as to represent the colors of the Italian Flag.
During this century, pizza gradually evolved into a kind of tomato and bread dish accompanied by cheese. It wasn’t until the late nineteenth or the early 20th century that pizza became more savory and spicy rather than being sweet as it was before resembling flatbreads that we now know as schiacciata.
Modern History of Pizza
The pizza took its modern form after the Second World War when hundreds of Italian Americans joined the war effort as soldiers on the front in Western Europe. The vibrant Italian American community, true to its roots took their cuisine from one corner of the US to the other, giving an exponential rise to pizza’s popularity in America.
After a while, pizza was no longer perceived as natives-only treat and started taking form of a fast food regionally. Soon, it became an American obsession and a symbol of the American life with more non-Neapolitan emerging like the Californian gourmet pizzas and so on.
The pizza that got popularized in the American household finally reached the postwar Europe and kept going on towards other corners of the world and today, there are hundreds of international pizza chains in almost every single country around the world with scores of different recipes from Los Angeles in the West to Tokyo in the East.