Where Did Pizza Come From Originally?

Who Invented Pizza?

Well, who did invent pizza?

The natural answer to such an apparently simple question would be — “Duh, Italians!”.  It is commonly thought that the archetypal pizza, an open-faced bread pie covered in tomato sauce, mozzarella, basil and olive oil, is born in 1889 by the hands of the Neapolitan baker Raffaele Esposito.

Naples, which was founded around 600 B.C. as a Greek settlement, flourished in the 18th and 19th Centuries, becoming a thriving waterfront city with strong wealth inequality. The population got denser and poorer as one approached the bay from the mainland. So, aside from a wealthy minority, the Neapolitans required inexpensive food that could be consumed quickly. Flatbreads with many toppings, eaten for any meal and sold by street vendors or cheaper, more affordable restaurants met this need of the masses. Legend has it that Raffaele Esposito’s creation was seen as patriotic in that the three main ingredients (tomato, mozzarella, basil) followed the colours of the Italian flag. Tradition says that he made it in honour of King Umberto I and Queen Margherita visit to Naples in 1889, who were traveling around France and, as the tales tell, had gotten bored with the steady diet of French haute cuisine. Rumours immediately spread that the Queen enjoyed the pie, and thus, it became known as a Margherita…and these rumours never ceased to exist, bringing about the misleading origins of pizza. 

But pizza did not stay within the confines of the Italian peninsula for long. In the early 1900s, immigrants from Naples began recreating their delicious culinary creation — pizza — in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Chicago and many more cities in the continental United States. In 1905, the very first license to sell pizza in America was sold to Gennaro Lombardi, whose shop is still open in New York today! Go visit it if you get a chance. The boom of the pizza came along when, after World War II, the first gas-fired pizza was created. Consequently, pizza became a common lunchtime meal because it was quick and cheap.

Where Did Pizza Come From Originally?

The world-renown Neapolitan baker Esposito did not just come up with the concept of a flatbread, which is thereafter covered with a variety of different toppings. It isn’t quite right to say that the Italians were the geniuses behind the spectacular art of pizza. In fact, its origins date back to antiquity, when various civilisations, such as the Egyptians, Romans and Greeks, produced extremely similar dishes, which, it is very likely, are the predecessors of what is known today as Pizza.

It is thought that the direct precursor of pizza probably was “focaccia”, a flat bread known to the Romans as “panis focacius”, to which toppings were then added. In fact, in the 1st Century B.C., the Roman poet Virgil from Andes (Mantova) writes about the ancient idea of the bread as an edible plate or cutting board for other foods. But even before this, the ancient Greeks prepared a particular loaf of flat shape, named “plakous” that was seasoned with various spices, such as garlic and onion. The king of the Persians, Darius the Great (521-486 BC) also cooked a kind of flattened bread using shields for cooking, with a topping of cheese and dates, ingredients which were largely abundant in his regions of Persia.

The Origin of The Pizza

“…there is no earlier evidence than third century Macedonia for the use of a flat loaf of bread as a plate for meat, a function which bread continued to perform in the pide of Turkey, the pita of Greece and Bulgaria, the pizza of southern Italy and the trencher of medieval Europe. Although meat and other relishes were seen earlier in Greece as accompaniments to cereal, the cereal had taken other forms.”
— Siren Feasts: A History of Food and Gastronomy in Greece , Andrew Dalby [Routledge:London] 1996 (p. 157)

The origin of the word pizza is a bit of a question mark. Some etymologists postulate that it may have come from the Latin “pix” meaning “pitch” or Greek “pitta”. Others, however, say that it comes from the Langobardic word “bizzo” meaning “bite.” The Longobards were a western germanic tribe, which means that we could even trace the origins of pizza to the northern part of the European continent, not the south-eastern part of the Mediterranean, as other proof suggests.

Another disorienting factor is that there are a lot of dishes that bare a significant resemblance to pizza. “Pissaladiere” (a Provençale tart of a crust topped with anchovies, olives, and onions) from Provence, “Coca” from Catalan, and “lahma bi ajeen” are some of the major examples. This is probably the case because, the flat bread that came from Rome was imported all throughout the Roman Empire during its expansion.

So, to conclude, where did the dish itself emerge? It is hard to pin it down for sure. The common belief is that Italians invented pizza, but — who knows?