There are many different opinions as to who to deserves credit for the invention of pizza. You may have assumed, like so many others, that pizza was strictly an Italian creation. But a little bit of research reveals that the foundations for our modern day pizza may go back much farther than we would ever have imagined.
The Egyptians made a flatbread and the Indians baked naan in hot Tandoori ovens, but neither of these had toppings. Around 500 B.C. Persian soldiers baked a flatbread on their shields which they covered with cheese and dates, but was it a pizza?
The ancient Greeks had a flat bread called plakountos, on which they placed various toppings such as oil, herbs, spices and dates and by the 18th century this spread to Italy where the flatbreads called “Pizzas”, were sold on the streets and in the markets. Initially, they were not topped with anything. Even though tomatoes reached Italy by the 1530’s it was widely thought that they were poisonous and were grown only for decoration. However the innovative (and probably starving) peasants of Naples started using the supposedly deadly fruit in many of their foods, including their early pizzas. Since these pizzas were relatively cheap to make but were tasty and filling, they were being sold on the streets of Naples for every meal . As pizza’s popularity increased, street vendors gave way to actual shops where people could order a custom pizza with many different toppings. By 1830 the “Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba” of Naples had become the first true pizzeria and this institution is still producing masterpieces.
It took some time, however, for the rest of society to accept this crude peasant food. Legend has it that in about the year 1889, Queen Margherita noticed many people eating this flat bread while touring her Italian Kingdom with her husband Umbeto I. Curious, the Queen ordered her guards to bring her one of these pizza breads. The Queen loved the bread and would eat it every time she was out amongst the people, despite its reputation as peasant’s food. Eventually, she summoned Chef Rafaelle Esposito to the royal palace to bake pizza for her.
In honor of the beloved Queen, Chef Rafaelle decided to show his patriotism and designed a pizza especially for her. He baked a pizza topped with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and fresh basil to represent the colors of the Italian flag: red, white, and green.
This became the Queen’s favorite pizza, which not only made her even more popular with the Italian people, but started a culinary tradition, the Pizza Margherita. This tradition, which lasts to this very day in Naples, has now spread throughout the rest of the world.
Today, pizza takes on many forms satisfying nearly every kind of culture and cuisine. Americans eat approximately 350 slices of pizza per second. And 36 percent of those pizza slices are pepperoni slices, making pepperoni the number one choice for pizza toppings in the United States. However, in India pickled ginger, minced mutton, and paneer cheese are the favorite toppings for pizza. In Japan, Mayo Jaga (a combination of mayonnaise, potato and bacon), eel and squid are the favorites. Green peas top Brazilian pizzas and Russians love red herring pizza. It is sold in pockets, breads and rolls. There is pan pizza, stuffed pizza,, thick crust pizza, and bagel pizza; to name just a few. Simply put, pizza has come a long way since its origin and can now be termed a “world treat.”
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