The History of Pizza – Greece to Naples to America

Although Italy has the fame for creating pizza the history of pizza dates back many hundred years to the ancient Greeks. The Greeks were known to baked large flat unleavened bread topped with oils, herbs, spices and dates. Their creation loosely resembled what is known today as pizza.

Naples is typically thought of as the birth place of pizza. Pizza was the food of Naples lower class in the past. At the time they created their version of pizza with a thin flat bread topped with a tomato sauce. This changed with a single expression of Italian pride. In the later part of the 1800s Raffaele Esposito, an Italian Baker in Naples, is accredited to have created the first Neapolitan pizza while royalty was visiting. The Italian Monarch, King Umberto and Queen Margherita were touring Naples. Esposito wanted to impress the royal family and show his patriotic love for his country and chose to top a pizza with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and basil which reflected the colors of the Italian flag. Esposito impressed the King and Queen and the news of the new creation traveled quickly and just as quickly was copied by many. The new pizza was called Pizza Margherita and is the official pizza of Naples.

Pizza made it to the states in 1905 when Gennaro Lombardi, an Italian immigrant who owned a small grocery on Spring street in Manhattan started making tomato pies for his fellow Italian immigrants to eat at worksites during lunch. Eventually Lombardi was selling more pies than groceries so he closed the grocery and became the first pizzeria in the United States. His pizzeria was called Lombardi’s and exists today with the same oven and great pizza a block from its original location.

Pizza didn’t become an American craze until after World War II when pizzerias started to open up in every city across the states. Upon hitting Chicago the people needed something a bit heartier than the New York style pizza and Ike Sewell knew exactly what that was, the deep dish pizza. This pie was heavy on toppings with the sauce on top and the cheese on the bottom all baked in a deep round cake like pan. This pizza pie was a meal and not just something to grab on the go and kept you warm on those cold days. Ike started Pizzeria Uno to showcase what a pizza pie could be and it wasn’t long till it was as much a part of the culture as Wrigley field and the cubs.

In 1982 California staked a claim on the pizza world which reflected Hollywood’s need for extravagance and luxury. Wolf Gang puck’s restaurant Spago with pizza chef Ed LaDou crafted pizzas with luxurious toppings. LaDou had no boundaries that contained him and expanded the pizza more than anyone else. By the time LaDou left Spago he had created 250 unique pizzas for the menu.

Recently the Japanese has dove into the making their own cultural mark on pizza as have other countries. Okonomiyaki is similar to pizza but with some unusual toppings for the western palette and are typically fried on a griddle.

Pizza has taken on many forms since the first pies in Greece but despite the variety its become a staple of comfort food and seems to have no set boundaries.

 


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