The History of Pizza: How Naples Invented the World’s Favorite Food

How pizza was born in Naples and why you should care
Pizza was invented in Naples, Italy, in the 18th century.


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For those in a hurry

  • It was invented in Naples, Italy, in the 18th century by poor people who needed a cheap and fast meal.
  • The first pizza was a flatbread topped with tomatoes, which were brought from Peru and thought to be poisonous at first.
  • The most famous pizza is the Margherita, which was created in 1889 by a chef named Raffaele Esposito for Queen Margherita of Savoy, who was visiting Naples. He used the colors of the Italian flag: red tomatoes, white mozzarella cheese, and green basil leaves.
  • Neapolitan pizza is cooked at very high temperatures for no more than 90 seconds and has more sauce than cheese, making it wet or soggy in the middle. It is not suitable for being served by the slice, but rather folded and eaten on the street.
  • Neapolitan pizza is a protected product in the European Union and a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage. It must follow strict rules about the ingredients and the preparation method.

What is pizza?

It is one of the world’s most beloved dishes. It’s colorful, comforting and infinitely tasty. But what exactly is pizza and where did it come from?

It is a type of flatbread that is topped with various ingredients, such as cheese, tomatoes, meat, vegetables and herbs. The word pizza comes from the ancient Greek word “pissa” or “pita”, which means bread. Pizza was a common food in ancient Greece and other parts of the Mediterranean, where people used to bake bread and then add toppings to it.

How did Naples invent it?

The birthplace of modern pizza is Naples, a city in southwestern Italy that was founded around 600 B.C. as a Greek settlement. Naples was a thriving waterfront city in the 18th and early 19th centuries, but it was also notorious for its poverty and overcrowding. Many people lived on the streets and survived on cheap food, such as bread and cheese.

One of the most important ingredients that changed the history of it, was the tomato. Tomatoes were brought to Europe from America in the 16th century, but they were initially considered poisonous and only used as ornamental plants. It was only in the 18th century that tomatoes were widely consumed in Italy, especially in Naples, where they were added to the flatbread and cheese to create a new dish: pizza.

The first pizzerias appeared in Naples around this time, selling pizza as a street food to the poor. One of the oldest pizzerias is Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, which opened in 1738 and still operates today. The pizzerias used wood-fired ovens to bake their pizzas at very high temperatures for no more than 90 seconds. This resulted in a soft and floppy crust with a moist and saucy top.

The pizza Margherita: a royal tribute

The most famous and classic Neapolitan pizza is the Margherita, which was created in 1889 by chef Raffaele Esposito of Pizzeria Brandi. Esposito was asked to prepare a special pizza for Queen Margherita of Savoy, who was visiting Naples with her husband, King Umberto I. Esposito decided to make a pizza that resembled the Italian flag: red tomatoes, white mozzarella cheese and green basil leaves. He named it after the queen and presented it to her with a letter of dedication.

The queen loved it and sent a thank-you note to Esposito, who was overjoyed by her praise. The pizza Margherita became a symbol of national pride and a popular dish among Italians and foreigners alike.

How Neapolitan pizza conquered America

Neapolitan pizza became more popular in America than in Italy thanks to the Neapolitan immigrants who brought their tradition with them. Between 1880 and 1920, millions of Italians moved to America in search of a better life. Many of them settled in New York City, where they opened pizzerias and introduced their cuisine to the locals.

The first documented pizzeria in America was Lombardi’s, founded by Gennaro Lombardi in 1905 in Manhattan’s Little Italy. Lombardi’s used a coal-fired oven to bake its pizzas, which gave them a crispier crust than the wood-fired ones. Lombardi’s also sold pizza by the slice, which made it more convenient for customers.

Neapolitan pizza soon spread across America and evolved into different styles, such as New York-style thin crust, Chicago-style deep dish and California-style gourmet. However, many Americans still appreciate the original Neapolitan pizza for its simplicity and authenticity.