Did you know that the original version of something resembling the pizza we know and love today dates back to Ancient Egypt? At the time (and still today, actually), several variations on the theme of flatbread with one or more toppings were found in the Mediterranean Basin. But pizza in the modern sense harks back to sixteenth-century Italy – specifically, to Naples.
In the beginning, the Neapolitans called the simple dish “pizella.” It was often nothing more than an oiled piece of dough. The nobility would enjoy a sweet version while ordinary folk preferred the savoury rendition. Then pizza bianca appeared, with just one topping, cheese – much prized by the elite. Finally, tomatoes, which arrived from America at the turn of the century, became a key ingredient, and pizza rosa was all the rage.
The dish gained in popularity over the eighteenth century, the first pizzerias began to appear, and the word “pizza” entered everyday vocabulary. But that’s not the end of the story…
In 1870, the story of Neapolitan pizza intersected with Italian history. During celebrations to mark the reunification of various regions in the country, Queen Margherita of Savoy came to Naples. A special kind of Neapolitan pizza was concocted in her honour and to celebrate the new nation-state of Italy. And thus was born pizza margherita, with the white of mozzarella di bufala, the red of ripe tomatoes and the green of basil leaves – the colours of the Italian flag! Pizza spread across the nation, along with Neapolitan culture, becoming a major symbol of Italian cuisine and culture.
Over the intervening years, Neapolitan, Roman, Sicilian and other versions of pizza have circled the globe. More on that in a future column… In the meantime, come and see us to taste or take out one of our delicious pizzas – perhaps even a Margherita in honour of the queen!