A Slice of History

written by Wendy Watta 5th October 2015

A Slice of History

Pizza has taken the world by storm, and Kenya is firmly rooted on the crust of this bandwagon. Perhaps this is because there really is a pizza to suit anyone, whatever their preferences. As you order your favourite type during our pizza festival, here’s an interesting slice of history for you to bite into

Of the three that he made, she fell in love with the pizza Margherita, created in the colours of the Italian flag; green of basil, white of mozzarella and red of tomato

The Pizza Margherita is one of the most common today, and it owes its name to Italy’s beloved Queen Margherita. It is said that in 1889, pizza maker Raffaele Esposito was commissioned to create a pizza in honour of her. Of the three that he made, she fell in love with one created in the colours of the Italian flag; green of basil, white of mozzarella and red of tomato. Neapolitan style pizza has since spread throughout the world with Kenya being firmly rooted on the crust of this bandwagon.

So how exactly did this phenomenon come to be? Well, after inventing the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell got hungry and…okay, that’s not it. While flatbread topped with oils, spices and such were popular among the Greek and Egyptians, modern day pizza can been traced back to Naples, Italy. Today, it is generally topped with tomato sauce and cheese, followed by a selection of meat, vegetables and other condiments. Before that, however, flatbreads in Italy were often topped with ingredients like lard, cheese, garlic and basil. Tomatoes were actually not used in pizzas, or Italian cuisine for that matter, until the 18th and early 19th century, despite having reached the region in the 1530s. This is because they were thought to be poisonous and were actually only ever grown for decoration. Peasants started using this ‘deadly fruit’ in a lot of their dishes (perhaps out of hunger), but it took quite some time for the rest of the society to warm up to the idea.

Tomato-based pizzas were already being sold on the streets of Naples by the time the elite tried them and decided that they were on board. Slowly, pizza moved from being just a street food to actually being sold in shops where patrons could place their orders and choose from a variety of toppings. It was the 1830s and the first true pizzeria, Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, was established. Just so you know, it is still churning out this flatbread in 2015! When it comes to cheese, mozzarella was the only one used initially, with the best quality ones using buffalo mozzarella (made from the milk of the domestic Italian water buffalo). Today, other types like provolone, ricotta, cheddar and parmesan are often included.

The ‘pizza effect’ in sociology refers to when elements of a nation’s culture are more fully embraced elsewhere before gaining popularity in their country of origin. This came from the idea that modern pizza was popularized by Italian immigrants in America (it was then still looked down upon in Italy) before being re-introduced to Italy as an accepted delicacy. The first pizzeria in America called Lombardi’s was opened in New York’s ‘little Italy’ in 1905, and it is still operational today. After the second world war, veterans returning from the Italian campaign having already been accustomed to food from that region, proved a ready market back home. Let’s just say that pizza consumption soon exploded in America and the rest of the world. As did pizzerias. Many variations have of course since come up, and a good example would be the crust which is now always either thin, as with the traditional Neopolitan pizza, or thick, as with the deep-dish Chicago style. New trends such as pizza al taglio, sficione, calzone and even sweet pizzas continue to emerge.

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