Pizza is, without a doubt, one of America’s favorite foods. Like many of our other favorites, it was brought here by immigrants. But you might be surprised to learn just how far back its origins go.
Pizza as we know it was perfected in the 1800s by the Italians, but its predecessors may go back as far as the Neolithic age. Ancient Greeks are believed to have been the first to create a flat bread, which they seasoned and used as an edible plate. They eventually added cheese, creating the first food that resembles the pizza we eat today.
The flat bread eventually made its way to Naples, Italy, where it was a popular dish among the country’s poor. When tomatoes were introduced to the country in the 1500s, cooks began to experiment with adding them to their bread dough. But the next step in the evolution of pizza did not occur until the late 18th century, when mozzarella cheese became popular.
Queen Margherita of Italy visited Naples in 1889. Hoping to impress the queen, Chef Raffaele Esposito set out to create a new dish in her honor. His creation consisted of flat bread topped with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and basil, giving it the colors of the Italian flag. The dish was well received, and to this day it is known as Pizza Margherita.
Italian immigrants brought pizza to the United States in the early 1900s. The country’s first pizza restaurant was opened in New York’s Little Italy in 1905. These establishments served pizza much like that found in Italy, but in much larger sizes. It wasn’t until several years later that pepperoni was added. Contrary to popular belief, the spicy sausage was invented in the United States and is rarely found in Italy.
Throughout the 20th century, the pizza craze continued to spread. Today, pizza restaurants are found around the world. Various cultures have added their own special touches to make the dish their own. Indian pizzas feature toppings such as Tandoori Chicken, while South Korean pizzas are complex creations with toppings such as shrimp, corn and potato wedges.
A number of distinct pizza styles have been developed in the United States as well. New York-style pizza, which hasn’t changed much since its early days, is among the most popular. Another favorite is Chicago deep dish pizza, which is known for its thick, bowl-like crust and reverse order of toppings. California-style pizzas come in numerous varieties with unusual toppings such as chicken, barbecue sauce and fresh produce. Also popular is the Hawaiian pizza, which is topped with ham or bacon and pineapple.
Pizza is rightfully considered an Italian dish, but much of its development took place in the United States. It is now a favorite around the world. With so many varieties to choose from, and new ones constantly under development, pizza lovers never have to worry about getting bored.