Pijja, Pisa or Piidza, whichever you choose to call it, is one of the most drool-worthy and popular foods in the world today. Despite having to contend with ace competitors like chocolate and ice cream, the pizza business in the world today amounts to nearly $35 billion per year! According to statistics from the US food industry, pizza drivers in America alone cover ten million miles every week, which is roughly about 41 trips to the moon each week! Today, people are eating football fields’ worth of pizza daily while pizza parlours around the world are dishing out hundreds of these yummy pies. Let us discover the true origins of this delicious cuisine which is as colourful as its toppings.
Though the common belief is that Italians invented the pizza, food historians trace the origins to ancient times. Babylonians, Egyptians and other Middle Eastern cultures were already consuming flat, unleavened bread that had been cooked in mud ovens. Archaeological evidence in the ancient Greek civilisation showed that the Greeks cooked their bread with oils, herbs and cheese. The Byzantine culture called this bread pita meaning pie. The word then spread to Turkey as pide and modern Hebrew as pite.
The modern pizza, however, had its humble beginnings as the Neapolitan pie in Italy. The pie was cooked with tomatoes or tomato puree and was consumed largely by the poorer sections of the society since it was inexpensive. Cheese was added as a topping to this pie several years later.
In the year 1889 Queen Margherita of Italy, accompanied by her husband Umberto I, took an inspection tour of the Italian kingdom. During their travels around Italy she saw many people, especially the peasants, eating this large, flat bread. Curious, the Queen ordered her guards to bring one of these pizza breads. The Queen loved the bread and would eat it every time she was out amongst the people, which caused some consternation in the court.
It was not seemly for a Queen to dine on peasants’ food. The most popular chef of the time, Raffaele Esposito, was summoned to the royal palace in order to bake a selection of pizzas for the queen. To honour the Queen, Raffaele decided to make a very special pizza just for her. He baked a pizza topped with tomatoes, Mozzarella cheese and fresh basil. As a mark of respect to the royalty he chose these ingredients because they represented the colours of the Italian flag: red, white and green and called it ‘Pizza Margherita’. The word soon reached the masses and the dish was such a hit that nearly everyone in Italy tried to copy Esposito’s patriotic pizza. By the early 1900s the pizza found its way into the US thanks to the Italian immigrants, especially in New York and Chicago. The pizza was initially served as cafeteria food and gradually rose to a national favourite during World War II, with American soldiers having relished the food while serving on the Italian front. Recognising the soaring popularity of the dish, the Italian government introduced a bill in Parliament to obtain a patent on the traditional Italian pizza. The government specified the permissible ingredients and methods of processing and only pizzas which strictly adhered to these guidelines could be called the ‘traditional Italian pizzas’ and the Neapolitan pizza in particular. Today there are more than hundred thousand pizzerias in different countries around the world serving healthy variations of both toppings and pizza bases.
Though the pizza is often eaten or cooked around the world as a cheap and convenient meal, the ‘Pizza Royale 007’ comes as a shocker.
Chef Domencio Crolla holds the world record for having baked the most expensive pizza. He packed his 12 inch pizza with some of the world’s most expensive assortment of toppings. From lobsters marinated in cognac to caviar soaked in champagne, Crolla’s final topping were edible 24 carat gold flakes! Of course the pizza was auctioned for charity and fetched nearly $2,500.
That is a lot of stuff about the pizza for a day’s read. All the fun facts on the pizza have made me ravenous and I am getting mine right away! By the time you finish reading this I am sure yours will be on its way! Bon Appétit!