Ask almost any kid what they want to eat on their birthday, and you will hear: “PIZZA!” Pizza is deeply woven into American culture, and appears regularly at movie nights, family gatherings, parties, and more. Pizza can be customized with so many flavors, and almost any toppings you can think of. But where did this delicious creation come from, and how has it become so popular? Read on to learn more about pizza, and try not to get too hungry while doing so!
The earliest pizzas were probably more like flatbreads, with the ingredients baked in to add more flavor. In Sardinia archaeologists have found bread that was baked over 7,000 years ago! The ancient Greeks also had a flatbread that they called plakous, with herbs, onion, and garlic baked in. Persian soldiers used cheese and dates on top of flatbreads they baked on their shields, and the Aeneid seems to reference a pizza when Aeneas and men have a meal that has round breads topped with cooked vegetables. Pizza is so delicious, that many different cultures have discovered a way to make something like it! Focaccia, mankoucheh from Lebanon, coca from Catalonia, pita from greece, and lepinja from the Balkans are all examples of classic flatbreads. The idea of topping some sort of bread with delicious ingredients came naturally to those who were culinarily inclined, but many people point to ancient Naples as the real origin of our modern day pizza.
Ancient Naples was founded around 600 BC as a Greek settlement and grew as a waterfront city filled with trade. It was known for the large amount of poor working class that lived there, called the lazzaroni. These workers needed food that was inexpensive and could be eaten quickly before getting back to work. Flatbreads that had assorted toppings were sold by street vendors or at casual restaurants, the origin of our modern day pizzas. These flatbreads had some of the signature ingredients we associate with the pizzas of today, including tomatoes, cheese, oil, anchovies, and garlic. The inclusion of tomato was especially noteworthy, because until the 16th century tomatoes were considered poisonous because they were part of the nightshade family. But by the 18th century, the lazzaroni were consuming flatbreads with tomatoes, and this dish even became a tourist attraction. Visitors to Naples wanted to experience the legendary pizza that was being served in the poorer areas of town.
In 1861 Queen Margherita visited Naples and legend relates that she was bored with her diet and wanted to try some of the local fare. She purportedly ate a variety of pizzas from Pizzeria Brandi, and was especially impressed with a pizza that featured mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil. This topping combination is still known today as pizza Margherita. This could have jumpstarted pizza’s popularity in Italy, but until the 1940s few people outside of the area knew of the magic that was pizza. Pizza enthusiasts claim that there are only two true forms of pizza—the margherita and marinara.
The marinara style pizza is older than the margherita and combines tomato, oregano, garlic, and oil to form a delicious sauce. It was traditionally prepared by “la marinara”, or the seaman’s wife, for returning husbands from their fishing trips. There is an association that governs whether a pizza is truly an authentic Neapolitan pizza. The Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana has very specific rules that must be followed to qualify:
- Pizza must be baked in a wood-fired oven.
- The base must be hand-kneaded and not rolled.
- The pizza cannot exceed 35 centimeters in diameter.
- The pizza cannot be more than one-third of a centimeter thick in the center.
While there are many famous pizzerias in Naples, this tradition has thankfully made it to America, and we are able to enjoy delicious pizzas here as well.
Pizza Comes to America
When Italian immigrants came to the United States in the 19th century they brought the tradition of pizza with them, and especially in large Italian neighborhoods (in New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, and St. Louis), pizza was sold on the streets by peddlers. These vendors would walk the streets with a metal bin of pizzas on their heads, and sell pizza for just a few cents. This tradition led to small restaurants and stores also carrying pizzas for people to enjoy. Up until the mid 20th century, even though pizza gained popularity in America, it was mainly consumed by Italian immigrants and their descendants. Pizza made a big splash after World War II when Allied troops occupied Italy and were always looking for food. The soldiers loved the local pizza, and brought their affection for pizzas back to America with them. And we sure are glad they did! Now pizza seems inextricably linked to American cuisine, and culture: “when the moon hits eye, like a big pizza pie, that’s amore!”
Continuing the Tradition
At Maggio’s, we are proud to continue the delicious pizza tradition! We have unlimited combinations of toppings, and you can create your own pizza to suit your individual tastes! WIth toppings that range from jalapenos to anchovies, and all the classics like pepperoni and Italian sausage, we have something for everyone! If you have trouble deciding, we have created some killer pizza pies:
- Maggio’s Pizza: Combines fresh garlic, spinach, eggplant, feta cheese, roasted red peppers, tomato sauce, and mozzarella cheese for a great explosion of flavors!
- BBQ Chicken Pizza: A relative newcomer on the pizza scene, this pie uses BBQ sauce instead of tomato sauce and piles on pulled chicken, red onions, and cheese.
- Spinach Pizza: Fresh flavors of ricotta, parmesan, mozzarella, spinach, basil, garlic, and olive oil combine to create a delicious pizza.
- Pizza Bianca: For those who love their meat and their veggies! Ham, pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, tomatoes and black olives are on this delicious creation.
- Pizza Rustica: For the true meat lovers, this pizza combines pepperoni, sausage, ham, salami, bacon, meatballs, homemade sauce and piles on the mozzarella cheese! No veggies here!
These are just a few of our delicious pizzas! Come on in to make your favorite, or choose from one of our awesome combinations! We also combine the delicious pizza flavors into our Strombolis, which are topped with parmesan and served with marinara.
We can all be thankful that pizza has become an enduring tradition in America, and that Maggio’s makes delicious pies with fresh ingredients daily! Our restaurant in Alexandria not only serves up pizza, but we also offer delicious Greek, Spanish, Mediterranean, and American favorites in a casual setting. Your family and friends can all enjoy their favorites with our extensive menu. Come visit us today to dine, or order online!