Pizza: a brief history of the 'Dish that Conquered the World'

The Italian word 'pizza' is used to describe any type of flat bread or pie that is fried or baked. This food as we know it today first appeared in Naples. Naples has many records of pizza going back to the year 1000. These flat breads were known as laganae and later referred to as picea. Back then, they were dressed with garlic and olive oil, or cheese and anchovies, or small local fish. They were baked on an open fire and sometimes were folded in two, as a book, to form a calzone.

The first pizzerias opened in Naples and had brick wood-burning ovens covered with lava stones from Mount Vesuvius. The chefs in those days ignored pizza because it was considered a poor people's food, but the new combination with tomatoes, when it entered the kitchen around the 1770s, must have raised some curiosity. Even in the royal palace, Ferdinand I Bourbon, King of Naples, attempted to add it to the Palace menu after tasting the pizzas made in the shop of Antonio Testa.

Pizza became very popular, earning its place in Neapolitan folklore. Simple and economical, it turned into the food for all people, even sold on the streets, as shown in many illustrations of the time.

A famous episode extended the popularity of pizza beyond the limits of the city of Naples. It was 1889, and Margherita, queen of Italy, was visiting the city. She was told about pizza and wanted to taste it. A famous cook by the name of Don Raffaele, helped by his wife Donna Rosa, was invited to cook it at the royal palace. They prepared three pizzas, typical of that time: one with cheese and basil; one with garlic, oil, and tomato; and one with mozzarella, basil, and tomato. The queen, impressed by the colors of the last pizza, which resembled the national flag, preferred that one. Since then this pizza is known as Pizza Margherita.

The first pizzerias appeared in the United States at the beginning of the last century. It has since become a mass phenomenon. Nevertheless, even today the best pizza is found in Naples where it is always made with buffalo mozzarella. Superior pizzas are considered those with moderate variations of the simplest and most popular: Pizza Napoletana with tomato, garlic, oil, and oregano; Pizza Margherita; Pizza Marinara with tomato, anchovies, capers, and olives; and Pizza Four Seasons, divided in four quadrants, each dressed in a different way. Pizza with hot salami, the American pepperoni pizza, is instead found in the Calabria region south of Naples, where this type of hot sausage is produced.