Pizzas are one of the most popular foods on the planet, with more than 3 billion pizzas being sold every year in the United States alone. One billion more pizzas are sold frozen to be enjoyed at home. Pizza is everywhere- we enjoy it constantly!
Pizza may seem like a classic Italian dish, but the pizza we enjoy today is a more recent creation than you may think. Pizza has a long and fascinating history, resulting in the many different types of pizza we enjoy today.
Ready to dive into a fascinating slice of history? Keep reading for the history of one of our favorite foods: the pizza pie.
Ancient Pizza Pies
Humans have been making some variations of pizza for thousands of years. Early civilizations, including the ancient Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians needed a portable, inexpensive, and practical food choice.
Flatbreads have been a practical food choice for thousands of years. These breads could be made from whatever grains were available at the time and do not require a full-sized oven to cook. They were easier to cook and eat while traveling and made it possible to consume a dish without utensils.
Additionally, these flatbreads would have been much more sustainable for the people eating them. Their low moisture level and ability to be dehydrated would have made it possible for the flatbreads to survive long journeys and extended periods of time without molding.
In times of nomadic life or famines, flatbreads would have been a durable and sustainable resource. The long shelf life and versatility would have made people in these regions rely on flatbreads as part of their daily diet.
As the years have passed by, humans have begun topping their flatbreads with a variety of different toppings, creating the earliest pizzas. Early “pizzas” would have been a focaccia base, cooked over a fire. Once cooked, they were topped with oil, honey, cheese, or whatever else was available.
These would have been very different from modern pizzas. These would have likely been quite plain, simple cheese on flatbread with whatever toppings were available.
The Origins of Modern Pizzas
In the 18th century, the city of Naples was becoming a thriving trade center, rapidly expanding in size. With the city’s infrastructure not able to keep up with the massive influx of residents, thousands of poor laborers inhabited Naples.
As these poor laborers, called Lazzaroni, ran around Naples for jobs, the need existed for quick and portable food. Street vendors selling slices of pizza quickly filled this role. Slices of pizza were very inexpensive and could be afforded by the Lazzaroni.
This style of pizza was getting closer to today’s standards. The flatbreads were topped with simple and flavorful ingredients such as garlic, cheese, and basil. Some included tomatoes and fish.
The upper-class of the kingdom of Naples despised these pizzas. The high society of the time deemed this street food as only being acceptable to the poorest of the poor. The rich saw pizza as truly repulsive for decades.
In fact, tomatoes themselves were extremely unpopular in Italy at this time. It is a common misconception that tomatoes have always been an integral part of the Italian diet, but tomatoes are not native to Europe.
Originally cultivated by the Aztecs in the Americas, tomatoes were only introduced to European society in the late 1500s. Europeans regarded this new food with great suspicion- new foods were not as openly accepted then as they are today.
They remained deeply unpopular for generations. Thanks to the lack of interest by the wealthy class, tomatoes were a poor man’s food. They fit right into the diets of the Lazzaroni of the time.
Not only were tomatoes affordable, but they were also nutritious. They added lots of flavor to the otherwise bland dishes that were made by the poor.
As such, tomatoes and pizza began to naturally flow together. Tomatoes were a flavorful and inexpensive topping to the Lazzaroni’s flatbreads. Despite being a natural and commonplace dish today, the high society of Naples was repulsed by these pizzas.
As the number of people in the Lazzaroni class increased, pizza street vendors began opening their own flagship restaurants. Even as pizza chefs began to hone in on their skills, the elite of Naples were unimpressed.
It took quite a bit of doing to get the rich to accept pizza as an agreeable food.
A Sudden Shift in Public Opinion
For generations, citizens of the Kingdom of Naples regarded pizza as nothing more than cheap street food fit only for the poor. This changed in 1889. Once the various kingdoms of Italy were unified into one sovereign Kingdom of Italy, King Umberto I and Queen Margherita embarked on a tour of the southern kingdom.
After weeks of eating high-class French cuisine, Queen Margherita was bored. She was tired of eating the same meals and flavors repeatedly. Additionally, she was open-minded to trying local dishes on her tour.
While in the city of Naples, the King and Queen requested their meal from local chef Raffaele Esposito from the Pizzeria Brandi. Chef Esposito prepared 3 different pizzas, two of which were not well-liked by the Royal couple.
However, the third pizza was different. Legend has it that Chef Esposito aimed to celebrate the unification of Italy with ingredients representing the green, white, and red of the new flag. As such, he layered fresh green basil, ripe red tomatoes, and bright white mozzarella.
Queen Margherita is said to have been thrilled with this pizza, which was promptly named in her honor. The Margherita pizza was born, and with it came a revolution in the world of pizza.
Virtually overnight, pizza went from being no more than a poor man’s food to a meal approved by royalty. The upper society of Naples and the whole of Italy embraced pizza as truly Italian food.
Spreading Pizza to the Masses
The early 1900s saw a massive boom in the pizza industry. Some say that soldiers during World War II ate pizza while in Italy, fell in love with it, and then told others about it on their return. While there may be some truth in that, there was an even bigger push that put pizza on the global plate.
There are two many groups of people that spread pizza abroad. The first was the influx of tourists to Italy. As tourists entered Italy, they desired to try the famous Italian cuisine that they had heard about, especially pasta and pizzas.
Now that pizza had become a staple of Italian cooking, tourists tried and loved them. This encouraged the growth of the popularity of pizza both in and out of Italy.
The second, and perhaps more impactful group was the surge of Italian immigrants. Italians migrated around the globe, bringing their beloved recipes with them. Quickly, Italian restaurants and pizzerias began popping up all over the world.
By 1905, the first pizzeria was opened in New York City- Lombardi’s.
The Boom of Western Pizzas
As pizzas spread throughout the United States, the distinct regions of the country adopted their own take on the Italian dish. Each is different from the classic Italian pizza, and each has a rich history. Local pizzerias have been serving up their own classics for generations.
The Chicago-Style Pizza
As pizza made its way to the Windy City, Italian immigrants began selling pizza from small bakeries. Through the early part of the 20th century, pizza began to gain popularity on the Southside.
After the end of World War II, the demand for pizza increased. Chicago restaurateurs and businessmen Ric Riccardo and Ike and Florence Sewell banded together to launch a new pizzeria together. The world’s first Pizzeria Uno was born in the heart of Chicago, bringing with it a pizza like no other.
This new pizza completely abandoned the thin, simple pizzas of Naples. The Chicago-style pizza is a deep-dish pizza, layering a thick pastry-like crust, copious amounts of cheese, and topped with fresh tomato sauce.
The pizza is baked in a thick pie-like pan, full of cornmeal to prevent the dough from burning. It is baked at very high temperatures for long periods of time, so the cornmeal insulation is much needed to prevent burning.
The high heat and lengthy cook time of Chicago-style deep-dish pizzas create a thick, rich pizza. Diners are warned in advance that deep-dish pizzas take an hour or more to bake, giving them lots of time to enjoy drinks, appetizers, and conversation.
There is nothing else quite like the Chicago style of pizza. It is the polar opposite of traditional Italian pizzas, but it is equally as iconic. If visiting Chicago, this style of pizza is well worth trying out for yourself.
The New York Style Pizza
Though Italian immigrants had been making pizza at home for years, Gennaro Lombardi was the first to open a pizzeria in the United States. Opened in 1905, Lombardi’s Pizzeria is the birthplace of American pizzas.
Originally opened as a grocery store with pizza on the side, Italian migrants and workers flocked to Lombardi’s for fresh pizza. The demand was so immense that Lombardi ditched the grocery store entirely and made his storefront a dedicated pizza house. Thus, the New York pizza was born.
The New York-style pizza is the closest Western pizza variety to the traditional pizzas of Naples, but with some key differences. The New York pizza is much larger in size than Neapolitan pizzas. Additionally, while the traditional pizzas of Naples were cooked in wood-fired ovens, New York-style pizzas are cooked in coal-fired ovens until crispy all the way across.
To this day, New York pizza remains very close to Lombardi’s. The thin, crispy, and large slices of pizza that are synonymous with the New York-style are sold in masses across the city. Many chefs that were trained at Lombardi’s have gone on to open their own successful pizzerias across the city’s five boroughs.
The New York-style pizza is so famous, it is almost synonymous with the city itself.
The Detroit Style Pizza
The Detroit-style pizza is another take on a deeper-dish pizza. First added to the menu of Buddy’s Rendezvous in 1946, Sicilian descendants Gus and Anna Guerra created the first Buddy’s Pizza.
This pizza’s base differs from the thin, Neapolitan-style crusts. Using a Sicilian pizza dough recipe passed down by Anna’s mother, the Guerras were able to create a lighter, airier crust.
The Detroit-style pizza is less about the ingredients; it is more about the manner in which it is cooked. Using heavy-weighted steel pans that were originally used in factories, the pizza is cooked into an iconic square shape. Slices are also cut into squares in the Detroit style.
The dough is laid out thick, but not as thick as the Chicago-style. The cheese is intentionally placed all the way to the edges on a Detroit-style pizza, allowing it and the crust to deeply caramelize and fuse. The end result is an unbelievably crispy, crunchy crust.
Michiganders have been battling it out for corner pieces for years. The corners get two sides of crunchy, cheesy crust that is unlike any other pizza out there.
Today, Buddy’s Pizza and several other Detroit-style pizzerias have evolved into extremely popular chains.
St. Louis Style Pizza
The city of St. Louis has created a very unique version of pizza that creates a bit of controversy in the heart of Missouri. Amedeo Fiore is to thank for that, as the creator of the St. Louis-style pizza for his restaurant, Melrose Pizzeria.
The St. Louis pizzeria scene did not really take off until after the end of World War II, a bit later than the Eastern states. The St. Louis pizza makes a few key changes to traditional pizzas.
First, the pizza crust is made without any yeast. The result is an almost-cracker-like, ultra-thin crust.
Secondly, the pizza is topped with a regional cheese called Provel. Provel is a blend of Swiss, provolone, and white cheddar cheese. It has a strong, distinct flavor, and is a major switch-up from the mild, traditional mozzarella.
These significant changes make St. Louis-style pizza somewhat divisive amongst pizza enthusiasts. Locals, who have grown up with this thin crust and the flavor of Provel cheese, are fond of their take on pizza. Tourists are occasionally more critical, but nevertheless, the St. Louis-style pizza lives on.
The California Style Pizza
The West Coast-style pizzas of California are newer to the pizza scene but have already made a big impact. First noted in the 1980s, Ed LaDou and Alice Waters each individually began making these pizzas in their respective restaurants.
The California-style pizza is essentially a marriage of the traditional Italian style and the New York-style, with a twist of local flair. The toppings are the key ingredients in a California-style pizza. These pizzas are made with more modern and fresh ingredients, usually sourced as locally as possible.
Avocados, peppers, fresh cheeses, and local produce all have found their place on pizzas with the California approach. The focus is on lighter and fresher flavors. Though newer, the California-style pizza has grown massively in popularity, with chains spread throughout the United States.
Trenton Tomato Pie
Named after the city of its creation, this New Jersey-style pizza is a unique twist on traditional Italian pizzas. With origins as far back as the 1910s, Papa’s Tomato Pies is the oldest restaurant in this style. Joe Silvestro and Joe Papa each established extremely successful Trenton tomato pie restaurants in Trenton, New Jersey.
This pizza is similar to a Neapolitan or New York-style pizza. The primary difference is in the order in which the ingredients are added.
With a Trenton tomato pie, the cheese is directly against the crust. The tomatoes rest on top of the cheese- essentially exactly the opposite order of a traditional pizza.
This method does come with some benefits. Because the tomatoes are on top of the cheese, the cheese acts as a moisture barrier for the crust. This helps keep a Trenton tomato pie crust nice and crispy.
The tomatoes really get a chance to shine through in this style of pizza. Because the cheese isn’t at the forefront of a bite, the freshness of the tomatoes gets to take center stage.
Today, many restaurants in the Trenton area have at least one Trenton tomato pie on the menu. This local favorite continues to remain popular after more than 100 years of consumption.
The Dawn of Fast Food Pizza Chains
With the rise of the fast-food industry throughout the 20th century, pizza has naturally become one of the biggest fast-food styles. After all, pizza was originally made for people on the go. It is fast, inexpensive, and relatively durable for transport.
In 1958, the first fast pizza chain was launched- Pizza Hut. The ease of having hot pizza delivered right to your door was an explosively popular concept. Today, Pizza Hut has more than 16,000 restaurants in more than 100 different countries around the globe.
Today, there are dozens of different pizza chains around the world, each dishing up the different styles of pizza.
Jet’s Pizza and Buddy’s serve up Detroit-style pizza, California Pizza Kitchen offers the latest of the California-style, and UNO’s has evolved into a nationwide chain of Chicago-style pizzerias.
Many of these chains offer rewards programs, making it even more tempting for diners to return time and time again. Delivery services have made it easier than ever for restaurants to deliver pizzas.
With the ease and accessibility of pizzerias today, the popularity of pizza has only grown. These chains have made it more accessible to have pizza for parties, quick dinners, or events with hardly any hassle.
The Pizza of 2022 and Beyond
Pizza is more popular than it has ever been before. Despite being little more than a poor person’s meal 200 years ago, pizza today is a staple of every country.
Pizzas continue to evolve as time goes on. People are getting more and more experimental with different toppings and combinations, so we are likely to see even more regional varieties of pizza popping up. It is likely we will continue to see global inspiration in our pizza toppings, as fusion cuisine is growing in popularity too.
Additionally, as diets continue to evolve, we are seeing pizzas that accommodate a large range of dietary restrictions. Many restaurants are beginning to offer a selection of crusts- cauliflower, gluten-free, whole wheat, and more. With a wider selection of options, more people can enjoy pizza.
Vegetarian and vegan pizzas are also exploding in popularity. Plant-based diets are becoming increasingly prominent, so vegan cheese, wide vegetable varieties, and meat alternatives will continue to pop up on pizzeria menus. It is likely that vegan-only pizzerias will start to appear as plant-based diets grow more popular.
Take a Slice of Your Favorite Pizza Pie
Pizza has a long and colorful history. Despite humble beginnings, pizza has been blasted to the forefront of the culinary world. Even after years of dominance, pizza shows no signs of slowing down.
One of the most popular foods today, pizza is available in a wide assortment of different regional specialties. Whether you prefer the crispy corners of a Detroit-style pizza, the thin classic of the New York-style pizza, or the richness of the Chicago-style pizza, there is something out there for everyone. Be sure to try them all and find your perfect slice of pizza pie!
For some of the best pizza in Idaho, check out one of our restaurants today!