Answers to Your Burning Pizza Questions
Let’s talk about about one of the foods that is so American it’s right up there with apple pie and football that you play with your hands.
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
One of the biggest questions and myths about pizza is its origins. Did it start in Italy? Greece? America? The answer is technically Greece.
Pizza was invented in Naples, a seafront city founded by the Greeks in 600 B.C. These settlers brought with them the Greek tradition of flatbread, or, more specifically, of dressing dough in olive oil, cheese, and herbs.
The biggest leap, however, occurred when Italians started using yeast to get dough to rise in the 17th and 18th centuries, creating the soft, fluffy crust we know and love today. They’re also responsible for giving tomatoes their place on a pie.
So, yes, pizza is quintessentially Italian. The word was first recorded in 997 in the Italian town of Gaeta, with the dish spreading throughout the region during the 18th and 19th centuries.
It was there in Naples that the Margherita style of pizza, a popular varietal topped with fresh tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella, was coined in 1889. As the story goes, the city’s leading pizzaiolo, Raffaele Esposito, presented the three different pizzas to then Queen Margherita of Savoy, and she chose the one that’s colors mimicked the Italian flag. Of course, it’s since been named in her honor.
TO AMERICA WE GO
Soon after Margherita devoured her first tricolor, Italian transplants brought pizza across the Atlantic to immigrant-dense America.
“Back in Italy, pizza was traditionally sold by the pie,” explains Jeff Mahin, a partner in the restaurant group Lettuce Entertain You. “But in the U.S., many Italian immigrants would ask to buy portions, thus giving birth to the slice. Either way, pizza was a filling meal at a cheap cost, making it increasingly popular among the country’s laboring class.”
“Much like today’s food trucks, pizza was the IT food of the day,” Mahin says. “Cheap, warm, and filling. The other thing about pizza was its ability to travel—slices could be enjoyed in moments between jobs, perfect for the hard-working conditions of the time.”
The trendiness of pizza continued to grow throughout the 20th century, especially after WWII. Returning soldiers ached for the authentic crusts they’d come to love while stationed in Italy, leading to a boom of new vendors across the country.
Then the 50’s and 60’s came along which pretty much mandated that every family should have a couple of kids, a couple of cars, and a home of their own. Frozen pizza pies fit easily into that lifestyle and the frozen food aisles at supermarkets were booming.
Pizza continues to be the perfect do-it-all food where you can get the most artisan, hand-crafted pizza, tossed by a certified pizzaiolo, or you can reheat it by the slice at 2 a.m. Both versions are delicious!
Another great thing about pizza is that it brings back a lot of nostalgic feelings for people. Most of us can remember our local pizza spot with red and white checkered tablecloths and arcades in the back.
Some Friendly Competition
Many experts feel American pies now rival those served in Italy, but there is no denying that Italians have their own approach.
For one thing, pizza places in Italy would never have 27 different varieties. They stick to the basics and just have a couple of options. And you would never see something with as many toppings as, say, a Hawaiian pizza. Italians just use their pizza as a simple way of highlighting the cheese or tomatoes of a specific area. Because of this, you will find quite a variety as you try pizzas from city to city in Italy.
One other difference is that Italians serve it uncut with utensils and as an individual meal rather than the shared pies that Americans prefer.
The United States of Pizza
Pizza in America is very regional and people are about as die hard about their pizza as they are their local sports team.
Take New York vs. Chicago.
We all know New York style pizza is a very thin crust, and slices are often folded over and eaten with the hands, whereas Chicago style pizza is cooked in a deep dish with the toppings buried below the cheese which is below the sauce and is more of a fork and knife kind of sit down meal. They are both so delicious! I really don’t think I could choose between the two if I could only eat one style the rest of my life.
Then they are other American types. Detroit style (square), Greek style (focaccia), California style (single-serving), and another hundred or so varieties ranging from cauliflower to St. Louis.
I hope this was a fun review of pizza and its origins. I, for one, am very thankful it was invented in Greece all those many years ago. It is definitely a staple that my little family LOVES!
We have found our own adorable local pizza place with the red checkered tablecloths and arcade in the back that we just adore. We have already created so many fond memories sharing a hot pie together.
Pizza is always evolving and I can’t wait to see where it takes us next!
Weekly Newsletter Contributor since 2014
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