In episode one of Pizza Places & Things (PPT) Tim and I discussed the origins of pizza. We considered all theories from the likely and the absurd. Please listen to the entire episode to learn more.
Below is a basic timeline of events that we uncovered. Much like the episode, it goes in reverse order from 1905 to the creation of the cosmos itself.
What is widely regarded as America's first pizzeria, G. Lombardi's was opened in New York City in 1905. Inspired by the Italian cuisine of his youth, Gennaro Lombardi began making similar pies in a his bakery's coal fired oven. Although pizzeria's were not widespread in the US until the 1950s, Lombadri and many Italian immigrants just like him, introduced pizza to the East Coast decades earlier.
Lombardi came from Naples, which most people consider the epicenter of pizza. It is certainly the place where modern pizza began and possibly originated in the 13th century.
Not only is Naples considered the place were pizza was born, the city is home to the True Neapolitan Pizza Association (AVPN ). This is a non-profit organization whose mission is to "promote and protect in Italy and worldwide the true Neapolitan pizza (verace pizza napoletana), i.e. the typical product made in accordance with the characteristics described in the AVPN International Regulations for obtaining a collective brand mark True Neapolitan Pizza." In other words, they go around giving stamps of approval to all pizza places meeting the standard of what they consider to be true Neapolitan pizza.
Needless to say, Italians take their pizza very seriously. So it's no surprise that we associate Italy as the only true place where pizza could have possibly originated. But, it's simply not that simple.
Even if we credited Italy with being the first place to put red sauce and cheese on flat bread, that would only be telling part of the story.
Look no further than tomatoes. If not for the discovery of the new world and the establishment of the Columbian exchange, Italy would have never known tomatoes. Now, try to image Italian cuisine without tomatoes.
Columbus isn't the only Italian explorer tied to the origins of pizza. The OG Italian explorer, Marco Polo, that most people know best from the popular pool game that bares his name, was an early explorer of the Asian world.
Within his travels logs, he includes a recipe for one of his favorite Chinese dishes, the scallion pancake. Despite its name, it is not made with a batter, but with a dough. Scallions are actually cooked into the dough and its topped with oils and potentially spices.
Upon his return, Polo asks an Italian baker to recreate the pancake in order satisfying his cravings. After a few failed attempts, the baker resorts to taking the scallions out of the dough and placing them on top instead. In essence, the pizza was born. This Italian baker was from (surprise, surprise) Naples. Over the next few centuries pizza becomes more like what we imagine today. However, without the initial inspiration of the Chinese, who knows what we'd be eating o a Friday night.