Pizza as a dish has its roots in the classics, with even Virgil writing about it in his epic poem, Aeneid, in around 30 BC. But the pizza of ancient Rome had none of the lively Italian flavours that came to characterise it centuries later. It was only in the 1600s that Italy began meddling with the flat bread dish. Naples’ poor populations needed a practical breakfast they could easily eat on the go as they hunted for casual work, so the Italian pizza was born. It filled you up at breakfast time and fed the entire family over dinner. Back then, it came with budget-friendly ingredients like horse’s milk, basil, and garlic, so it served the pocket well as the stomach.
These days, nobody would criticise you for eating your pizza delivery with your hands, but in the 1400s, Italian writers called the habit disgusting. This was the attitude towards this filling street food, right up until the 1800s, when the humble pizza briefly became a dish for royalty. While visiting Naples with King Umberto I in 1889, France’s Queen Margherita was apparently bored with haute cuisine, so requested a variety of local pizzas to sample. Amongst others, the chef prepared a traditional pizza mozzarella, with soft cheese, basil and tomatoes. A queenly favourite was born, and - renamed in her honour - the Margherita pizza will offer you the same green, red, and white toppings to this day.
It wasn’t until the 1900s that pizza made its way to the United States, where it instantly earned a massive following. Italian Americans opened up their own pizzerias in Manhattan, before Chicago developed its own heartier base. Americans reportedly eat 350 slices a second, with Turkish-style pizza offered as a spicier option. If you order pizza online today, you too can become part of the divisive debate over which style is the best.
Although pizza gained in popularity around the world, it remained primarily a street dish until the Forties when formal restaurants began serving them. The first pizza chain was opened in 1958, and if you order Italian-style pizza today, you too can become a part of a rich gastronomic journey from lowly Neapolitan street stalls to the finest Michelin-starred restaurant.
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