The history of pizza needs to start with something a little harder to pinpoint – a definition of the term. There was no single moment when someone created the dish we know as pizza; instead, as with many culinary creations, the dish evolved over a period of thousands of years.
Flatbreads were popular in all the most civilised societies in the ancient world, such as in Egypt, Rome and Greece. There is evidence of bread baking dating from Neolithic times, 7,000 years ago, and in a way pizza dates back to then. When it comes to the ancient world, however, much of what the people ate was a flatbread with herbs and salt, similar to what we would today call focaccia.
There is no doubt that the first to coin the phrase ‘pizza’ were the poor in Naples, who mainly lived in squalor around the 16th to 18th centuries. Pizza was street food. It was served from a stall and enjoyed standing up, which was seen by the upper classes as something rough and undignified! Pizza in Naples was nothing more than a sweet flatbread; in fact, when tomatoes were introduced to Europe from South America in the 16th century, it took another 200 years until they were added to pizza.
Outside the poor areas of Naples, pizza – now served as a flatbread with tomatoes, oil, cheese and herbs – remained unknown in the rest of the world until the early 20th century. When Italian immigrants started arriving in the US in the late 1800s, some brought pizza with them. It was here that the dish flourished in popularity rather than in the rest of Italy, where it was still an unknown food.
Pizza was only enjoyed by Italian immigrants for about 40 years and it was not until the mid-century that it started becoming popular with the rest of the American population. From here it spread quickly around the world. You will now find the dish everywhere, from authentic Italian restaurants in Dublin such as toscana to big chain names as far afield as Sydney and Cape Town.
The history of pizza seems to be as long as the history of modern human civilisation itself and it is no wonder that this delicious dish is now enjoyed all over the world!