Pizza has a long history that dates back to ancient times. Its origins can be traced back to the ancient Romans, who made a flatbread known as “picea.” This flatbread was topped with olive oil and local spices, making it similar to the modern-day pizza. However, the toppings were simple compared to the variety available today.
Fast forward to the 18th century in Naples, Italy, where pizza as we know it today began to take shape. Naples, being a busy port city, attracted people from different regions, resulting in a melting pot of culinary influences. It was here that pizza started to resemble the dish we are familiar with. The flatbread began to be topped with ingredients such as tomatoes, cheese, garlic, and basil, giving rise to the iconic Neapolitan pizza.
The evolution of pizza continued in Naples, and in the 19th century, pizza as street food became popular among the working class. Typically made with simple ingredients, it was affordable and easy to eat while standing or walking. Street vendors known as “pizzaioli” sold pizzas from small, portable ovens, and they would often offer a variety of toppings to cater to different tastes.
One important milestone in the development of Italian pizza occurred in 1889 when Margherita of Savoy, the Queen consort of Italy, visited Naples. Raffaele Esposito, a renowned pizzaiolo, created a pizza in her honor, featuring the colors of the Italian flag—red tomatoes, white mozzarella cheese, and green basil. This pizza, known as the Margherita pizza, became extremely popular and solidified Naples’ reputation as the birthplace of pizza.
As Naples’ reputation for pizza grew, so did its popularity among tourists and immigrants, who brought the dish to other parts of Italy and eventually around the world. Italian immigrants in the United States, for example, opened pizzerias and introduced pizza to American cuisine. The Neapolitan-style pizza with a thin crust, fresh ingredients, and a wood-fired oven became synonymous with traditional Italian pizza.
While Neapolitan pizza remains popular, other regional variations have emerged over the years. For instance, in Rome, Pizza Bianca, a white pizza without tomato sauce, is a local favorite. It is made with olive oil, sea salt, and rosemary, and its simplicity allows the quality of the ingredients to shine.
The development of Italian pizza also saw the rise of numerous toppings and styles. Classic toppings such as margherita, marinara (tomato, garlic, oregano), and diavola (tomato, mozzarella, spicy salami) continue to be popular, but creative combinations have gained traction as well. From gourmet pizzas topped with prosciutto, arugula, and truffle oil to vegetarian options loaded with fresh vegetables, the possibilities are endless.
Today, Italian pizza is enjoyed all over the world, with different countries and cultures putting their own spin on it. From deep-dish Chicago-style pizza to thin-crust New York-style pizza, each region has developed its own version that reflects its culinary traditions and preferences. However, the roots of Italian pizza remain strong, with Neapolitan-style pizza still holding a special place in the hearts of pizza enthusiasts.