Italian food is beautiful and simple, made with the very best of local, fresh ingredients. Some of Italy’s food transcends borders and is recreated and loved outside Italy in countries all over the world. This is definitely the case for Pizza as the history of pizza shows.
Pizza is thought to be around three thousand years old. The Egyptians, the Romans and the Greeks consumed this style of food – a flat bread with a variety of toppings which resembles the pizza we eat today. However, if we trace the history of pizza, it tells us it was the Italians who embraced it and introduced the rest of the world to the concept of pizza.
Pizza became quite established in the coastal city of Naples. It was Naples’ working class population that ate pizza and honed the Italian recipe. The vast majority of this group lived simply at the coast, and they needed good food that they could quickly make and consume. An Italian flatbread cooked and topped with a variety of flavours and foods – usually oil and herbs – fitted this bill.
In the 18th and 19th centuries pizza became the favoured dish of the Neapolitan people. They began to develop the recipe and how it was cooked. Street vendors took the cooked pizzas out onto the streets of Naples. Pizza history tells us this was usually done by a boy who balanced a tin stove full of pizza on his head and grabbed the attention of locals with his calls. After this in the later 18th century the pizzeria was developed – where pizza was prepared on a marble bench and cooked in a traditional wood fired oven.
Pizza’s first brush with fame came in 1889 when King Umberto I and Queen Margherita, the heads of state of the newly unified Italy, visited Naples. They asked for the owner of a local Pizzeria Brandi, a pizzeria dynasty that survives today and was one of the first ever pizzerias in Naples, to visit them at the Royal Palace of Capodimonte. Rafaelle Esposito and his wife Maria Giovanna Brandi prepared three pizzas for the royal couple to try. One was a ‘white’ pizza with olive oil, cheese and basil, the second was with fresh sardines and the third was with tomato, mozzarella and basil. The latter was Queen Margherita’s favourite of the three – and Esposito named the pizza after the Queen as a result. And that was the origins of pizza Margherita. You can still see the letter the royal household send them at the Ancient Pizzeria Brandi in Naples.