A short journey through the history of pizza

11 October 2019 09:00

Pizza as we know it was first served up in Naples, Italy

Pizza as we know it was first served up in Naples, Italy

Strictly speaking, people have been eating pizza for centuries. Flat and flavoured breads appear all over our culinary history from Greek pitta and Mediterranean focaccias to Indian naan bread and the Chinese 'bing'.

But where does the pizza we know and love today really originate? Find out in our brief history of pizza...

It all began in Naples...

18th-century Naples was one of the largest cities in Europe. Fed by overseas trade and peasants migrating from the Italian countryside, the city's population grew from 200,000 in 1700 to 399,000 by 1748.

With many of its inhabitants living in poverty, the city needed a food that was cheap and easy to eat. Rushing to meet demand, street vendors solved the problem with a simple flatbread topped with anything from simple garlic and salt, to cheese, tomato and basil.

A poor man's supper...

For a long time, the pizza was considered uncivilised, made for the poorest civilians who would tear the meal apart with dirty hands. However, this all changed in 1889, when King Umberto I and Queen Margherita decided to take a holiday in Naples.

Tired of the elaborate cuisine they were being served, the queen demanded to try a local specialty and her chef responded with three traditional flavours of pizza. The queen fell in love with dish and her favourite, made with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, was names Pizza Margarita in her honour.

A national dish

Queen Margherita's approval was all the pizza needed to become a true national dish, putting pizza on a level with other Italian specialties such as pasta and polenta. From that moment on, the Neapolitans took pizza with them on their travels, spreading the tradition countrywide.

In the years after, the international pizza trend was accelerated across Europe by war, when allied soldiers invaded Italy and took the culinary delight home with them.

America, a second home

By 1905, Italian migrants had reached the east coast of the US, and New York welcomed its first pizzeria, Lombardi's. The dish was quickly adopted by Americans as a cheap and easy option for enterprising chefs, who took pride in adapting the Italian specialty to reflect American tastes.

However, the true transformation for American pizza came out of Chicago in 1943, where a Texan named Ike Sewell began to experiment with turning the thin flatbread into a deeper crust, filling out the dish with richer, more hearty toppings.

Pizza today

Today's pizza has come a long way from the original Napoleon street food. From deep pan and stuffed crusted, to Hawaiian and even Greek inspired toppings, the pizza, while still inherently Italian, has been adopted and commercialised by countries across the world.

But if you ever feel like trading in your Friday night Dominos for a little slice of history, a trip to Naples could still have you discover pizza in its original form.

Established in the 1830s, The Antica Pizzeria Port'Alba is widely believed to the world's first pizzeria, and is still serving it's truly home-grown speciality today...