So many choices. Peperoni or sausage? Red or white? Deep dish or thin crust? According to the popular saying:
You can’t buy happiness. But you can buy pizza, and that’s kind of the same thing.
There’s truth in numbers. Pizza is one of the most popular foods on the planet, leading to the question: where did it begin? The answer is in how you define pizza. Is it fast food, gourmet dining, or flat bread with toppings?
Consider the facts. Three billion pizzas are sold every year in the U.S alone – an average of forty-six slices per person. There are nearly seventy thousand pizzerias with a quarter of them Dominos, Pizza Hut, and Papa John’s. The most popular pizza day is Super Bowl Sunday. In contrast, Norwegians each eat eleven pounds of pizza a year, mostly in forty-seven million frozen pizzas. The most popular is the “classic” Norwegian pie with tomato sauce, Jarlsberg cheese, ham, and paprika.
How did a humble peasant food reach such heights? It took a very long time. The word “pizza” was first mentioned in a 997 Latin text, while “flatbread with toppings” existed long before. Virgil’s Aenid, the epic Latin poem written between 29 and 19 BC, described “thin wheaten cakes as platters for their meal.” In other words, they ate the plate.
I bet you never thought of pizza crust as an edible plate.
The idea of baking a simple bread beneath rocks in the fire goes back to the Stone Age, nearly 2.6 million years ago. Who was the first to mix flour and water, and bake? Was it the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, or a hungry cave dweller?
Think of that the next time you’re dining in a cave-like pizzeria.
As humans evolved, baked flatbread with toppings became commonplace. Third century Romans topped their flatbread with olive oil, herbs, and honey. Sixth century Persians ate it with cheese and dates. Flat flour cakes were even found in the remains of ill-fated Pompeii (79 AD).
It wasn’t until the Sixteenth Century when tomatoes were brought to Europe from the new world that pizza began to look like what we have today. Legend says that in 1889 King Umberto and Queen Margherita visited Naples and requested local specialties. Baker Raffeale Esposito created a pizza in honor of the royals – with basil, cheese, and tomato sauce – that represented the three colors of the Italian flag.
What does pizza look like today? Fast food and gourmet; basic cheese and tomato; and wildly creative toppings. There are twenty-four inch super slices (Pizza Barn, NY) to Nutella (City Winery, Nashville). Weird toppings are common, like White Truffle (Bar Cargo, Chicago) and Ray’s & Stark Bar (Los Angeles) with cheese, aged balsamic, and edible gold.
Keep in mind the hotly debated “Hawaiian Pizza” created by Sam Panopoulos, a Greek-born Canadian. The big question – does canned pineapple, ham, and bacon belong on a pizza?
The most expensive pizza in the world is the Louis XII, created by master chef Renato Viola. It takes four days to prepare and offers toppings like caviar, lobster, and seven types of cheese – all for a paltry twelve thousand dollars. In second place is Pizza for Lovers (over eight thousand dollars) from the Favitta’s Family Pizzeria in New York. The pie is heart-shaped, comes with diamonds, a diamond ring, and a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne.
I think I’ll stick to my $20 large with extra cheese, onions, and author Charles Pierces’ words:
The perfect lover is one who turns into a pizza at four a.m.