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That Flatbread That Became A Meal: Pizza

Then and Now | December 30, 2018

New York City Pizzeria. Source: (Photo from https://nearsay.com)

Pizza is a food that is loved by most people, whether Italian or not. Convenient for movie night or any night when cooking is not an option, pizza is easy whether ordering it to be delivered or popping into the oven.

Pizza goes way back with the earliest known pizza to be from the island of Sicily. What was left of old flattened bread was found by archaeologists who believed it to be about 3,000 years old as well as a tool for manufacturing it. From the ruins of the city of Pompeii that was caused by a volcano, archaeologists have been able to find numerous signs of the previous existence of pizza in the Roman Empire. Among the discoveries were street stands where they sold pizza and bakeries, along with the equipment, that they used. In early historical writings, pizza is mentioned by Darius the Great. Included in these writings are accounts of his soldiers baking flattened bread on their shields and covered with cheese. In the Roman Empire, and in particular, Naples and Pompeii, pizza was very popular as their regular daily meals. Other writings go on to say that they were very good at the skill of making these flattened bread pizzas, to which they would afterward add different toppings.

Queen Margherita. Source: (Photo from https://www.ilgiornaledellarte.com)

When tomatoes arrived from the new world, it became another ingredient that increased the popularity of pizza. It was in Naples where local cooks first began using tomatoes in their toppings. Naples, founded around 600 B.C., was an independent kingdom by the 1700-1800s and was full of the poor working class. Because they were the working class, they required inexpensive food and food that they could eat rather quickly. Flat-breads or “pizza” served that purpose and also provided various types of toppings including tomatoes, cheese, garlic, oil, and anchovies.

As a popular tourist location, many European, as well as Italian sailors, visited the city. The wealthy of the city were actually the minority but in 1889, Queen Margherita wanted to visit the city so she and King Umberto I paid them a visit. According to legend, she had become bored with eating the rich food of French cuisine. She asked for a variety of pizzas from Pizzeria Brandi that was located in the city. The Pizzeria Brandi was founded in 1760. It turns out that her favorite was pizza mozzarella which had toppings of white cheese, green basil, and red tomatoes. According to the story, that particular combination of pizza was then called pizza Margherita, which accounted for the pizza popularity in Italy. 

Naples. Source: (Photo from Pinterest)

Pizza with toppings did not originate with the lazzaroni (or the poor) but ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans enjoyed them as well. The Greeks especially loved the flattened bread with herbs and oil which are similar to focaccia. It was not until the 1940s that pizza made its way across the border of Naples to the United States. Immigrants from Naples were recreating their pizzas in places like New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago. As the popularity of pizza grew, vendors who sold the pizza became more creative and organized. In the beginning, pizza was only sold in the Italian districts of these cities and street vendors would walk up and down the streets selling them.  

First pizzeria opened in 1905. (Photo from https://onedio.com)

It was not long before non-Italians were enjoying the savory flavors and smell of pizza, particularly after World War II when the soldiers came home. The very first pizzeria was opened in Little Italy, Manhattan in 1905 by Gennaro Lombardi. Before that point, pizzas were sold by unlicensed vendors or made at home. Other traditional pizzerias that opened up included Pepe’s that opened in New Haven in 1925, Totonno’s opened on Coney Island and Brooklyn in 1924, and Mario’s opened on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx in 1919.  

Jimmy Massey who opened the first pizzeria in Columbus with friend, Romeo Sirij in 1950. (Photo from http://www.ghmchs.org)

During the 1950s, a big promotion helped the popularity of pizza with famous celebrities that began endorsing it such as Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Durante, and Joe DiMaggio. Lombardi's place stayed open until 1984, was then later reopened by Gennaro Lombardi’s grandson, and still exists today. Pizza parlors began opening up all across America.

Modern-day pizza places that have opened up since that time include Pizza Hut in Wichita, Kansas in 1958, Domino’s in 1967, and Papa John’s in 1984 and are now worldwide. Since pizza became so popular in America, more and more styles of pizza have been created. There are all types of pizza now with toppings that include barbecued chicken, Mexican style, macaroni and cheese, smoked salmon, dessert toppings, vegetable toppings like broccoli, and many others. Almost any kind of food that comes to mind can be added as a topping. Pizza has become an all-time favorite food for any situation or event. Pizza is popular in bowling alleys, at sporting events, home parties, meetings, church events, and even holidays. Most pizza places now also offer delivery service as well.

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Penny Chavers

Writer

Penny, besides writing, loves to spend her time with family and friends. In her spare time, she also enjoys playing the piano, board games, and taking online classes on topics that interest her.