Today is World Pizza Day: here’s how it was born and who invented it

There World Pizza Daywhich falls every year on January 17thwas introduced in 2018 to celebrate the recognition of the “art of the Neapolitan pizza chef” as a UNESCO intangible heritage of humanity. The date was not chosen randomly. January 17th is in fact the day on which Sant’Antonio Abate is celebrated, patron of fire and, by extension, pizza chefs.

The celebration it is not officially recognized by political institutions and is not very popular beyond the Italian borders. In Italy, however, it gives rise to “celebrations” in pizzerias, some of which offer special menus or at discounted prices. In other countries, a National Pizza Day is celebrated. In the United States, for example, it occurs on February 9th.

Pizza has its origins in dishes prepared in the ancient world, but in its modern form it was born in Naples between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The diffusion on a global scale, however, occurred after the Second World War.

Where and when pizza was born: the origins

The origins of pizza are lost in the mists of time. In fact, the habit of preparing buns made from wheat or other cereals and then eating them together with vegetables, meat, fish and dairy products was already widespread in the ancient world. There word “pizza” it was instead certified for the first time in the year 997, when it was used in a Gaeta document. The word, however, indicated a dish very different from the current one, a filled pie that could be savory or sweet.

Roman focaccias in a Pompeii fresco

The birth of “modern” pizza

“Modern” pizza has a more recent history, but does not have a precise date of birth, because, in the form we know, it developed in various phases. Between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the consumption of “pizzas”Meaning what focaccias sold from stalls on the streets of the city and seasoned with cheese and other foods. Among sailors, for example, it became customary to eat them with garlic, oil, olives and capers.

As time went by, the tomato sauce. Tomatoes, as we know, are one of the “American” products that arrived in Europe through the Colombian exchange, but they only began to be consumed on a large scale in the eighteenth century. Even in the middle of the following century they were little used and were not used in the two most popular types of pizza in Naples: the one with oil, garlic and fish scraps and the one with cheese and basil.

Neapolitan pizza chef from 1830

Who is the inventor of pizza

As the years passed, the tomato spread to a greater extent and allowed the birth of Pizza margherita. According to a very widespread tradition, the new pizza was invented in 1889 by the pizza chef Raffaele Esposito in honor of Queen Margherita, who was in sight in Naples. The three ingredients, tomato, mozzarella and basil, were intended to reproduce the colors of the Italian flag. However, similar pizzas already existed in previous decades and it is likely that only the name was born in 1889 and not the pizza itself.

What is certain is that during the nineteenth century pizza took on characteristics similar to the current ones.

Pizza Margherita (credits Valerio Capello)

Diffusion on an international scale

For many years pizza remained confined to Campania, but in the twentieth century it established itself in the area other Italian regions and in the rest of the world. The contribution of emigrants was fundamental to its spread: in the United States, for example, the first pizzeria was inaugurated in 1905 by a Neapolitan emigrant, Gennaro Lombardi.

Pizza has gained its popularity on a national and international scale after the Second World War. In the 1950s, when massive migratory flows towards northern Italy developed, southern emigrants contributed to the spread of pizzerias in the northern regions. In the same years, pizza also became popular abroad. In the United States, in the first half of the twentieth century it was consumed almost exclusively by Italian emigrants, but after the war it spread among all citizens. Between the end of the 50s and the beginning of the 60s, some popular songs were also born in the North American country pizza chainsincluding Pizza Hut and Domino’s Pizza, which contributed to expanding consumption, and the first frozen pizzas.

How many types of pizza are there

Since pizza is widespread throughout the world, there are numerous variations, linked to the eating habits and tastes of different peoples. Suffice it to say that it is used in Hong Kong pizza with snake meat and in Australia you can find pizzas with kangaroo meat or with the cannabis. Other “particular” pizzas have established themselves in the United States, such as pizza topped with pasta.

Pizza with spaghetti (credits Bingo Garbini Viterbo)

The pizza that most often causes controversy in our country also comes from North America: the “infamous” pizza with pineappleor Hawaiian, proposed for the first time by a Canadian pizza chef in 1962 and today widespread in many countries, but hated in Italy.