Whether you enjoy thin slices or deep dish, you can’t argue that pizza isn’t a well-loved food.
But, where does pizza come from?
In this post, we answer all your top questions on pizza trivia and pizza history.
First, let’s hear the commonly-believed story:
Where was Pizza Invented?
Pizza as it’s now known first appeared in Naples, Italy, in the late 1700s to early 1800s.
Naples was a bustling city, and the Lazzaroni, or Lazzari, were the poorest of the lower class of the population. These poor peasants, the same ones who would around this time also bring back the restoration of the Bourbon Kingdom of Naples, would give the world something far more important and long-lasting:
These Neapolitans (the demonym for the people of Naples) required cheap sustenance, and topped flatbreads became their version of the potato.
Though these first pizzas were topped with garlic, anchovies, cheese, and tomatoes, other Italians originally scoffed at this lowly peasant food.
Who Invented Pizza?
Later, Queen Margherita of Savoy and husband King Umberto I of a newly reunified Kingdom of Italy visited Naples in 1899.
Having what would later become known as white people problems, the pair is said to have grown tired of all their endless, delicious French cuisine. So, the Reggia di Capodimonte tasked Raffaele Esposito, a pizzaiolo (pizza maker), and his tavern, Pizzeria di Pietro e Basta Cosi, to make Queen Margherita a pizza in her honor.
He made three. Of those three, the queen is said to have particularly liked the pizza muzzarella, a simple pizza featuring the Italian flag’s colors: red tomatoes, white mozzarella, and green basil.
Legend says that because the queen loved it so, Raffaele Esposito is said to have named that pizza the Margherita.
However, Raffaele Esposito is not the inventor of the pizza, or even specifically of the pizza margherita, as pizza with those ingredients existed 100 years before. He is, though, probably the originator of the name pizza margherita, if he’s to be remembered for anything at all in the history of pizza.
What Were the First Pizzas Like?
In his 1866 book, Usi e costumi di Napoli e contorni descritti e dipinti (Uses and Customs of Naples and Described and Painted Contours), Francesco De Bourcard documented many of the day’s most popular pizzas.
Here’s a neat passage I transcribed from the original book in Italian:
(Forgive me for any errors, I take full responsibility!)
Our boy Frank here gives us some interesting insight into pizza of that time, back then nothing more than a cheap street food.
He starts off by giving a brief overview on pizza, saying “the pizza is … a specialty of the Neapolitans… Taking a piece of dough, spread it out with a rolling pin or by stroking it with the palms of your hands, put on top what comes into your head, season it with oil or lard, bake it in the oven, eat it, and you will know what a pizza is.”
He goes on to say that “focaccia and schiacciate are some similar” to pizza, but not the same.
Next, he describes common toppings. “The most ordinary pizzas, with garlic, have oil as a condiment, and above them oregano and minced garlic cloves are spread over the salt. Others are covered in grated cheese and seasoned with lard, and then a few leaves of basil are placed. At first they often add some small fish; to the second, thin slices of mozzarella. Sometimes we use sliced ham, tomatoes, arselle, etc. Sometimes folding the pasta back on itself forms what is called calzone.”
So, bonus, you learn about the first calzones, too!
He finally describes the first pizzerias, here called a pizzajuolo (pizzaiuolo) shop.
“The pizzajuolo shop consists of a counter on which pizzas are handled, surmounted by a sort of shelf where edible items are on display, and littered with jars containing salt, grated cheese, oregano, pieces of garlic, etc. of a more or less extended series of dressing rooms where one eats, which often have the accompaniment of an upper room where one is with freedom; and an oven that is always on and never sates the hungry mouth. In addition to pizzas, you can eat everything that can be put in a tegghia (Vulgar Latin term for baking tray), or in a pan and cooked in the oven.”
“Each shop has its advanced seats, that is, vendors of small pizzas of a grain or of large pizzas cut into pieces over very light tables with which they can easily change their place. The ordinary cry of them is a grain of one and a half; and the indefatigable monotonous lullaby of pizzajuolo in Santi Cosma e Damiano (a small town in Lazio) is famous: Na prubbeca, na prubbeca.“
What is the Name of the First Pizzeria to Open in the United States?
The first pizzeria was in the United States, was Lombardi’s in New York City, licensed to sell pizza in 1905. Located in Lower Manhattan on Spring Street, Gennaro Lombardi’s pizzeria still uses the same oven from over a century ago, though its location has changed.
Modern Pizza Today
Italian immigrants flooding into the United States in the 19th century brought pizza with them. Soon, it grew in popularity, now often called “the world’s most popular food.”
In 2014, the USDA released a study stating that 13% of Americans eat pizza on any given day.
Today, the world pizza market is a 128 billion dollar industry, with the US having a 35% share of that, at $44.5 billion.
Well, what do you think? I hope this has been a helpful look into the history of pizza, from its Italian origins to the pizza today. Got any questions, comments, or additions? Let’s chat below, and thanks for reading!