The History of Pizza

The History of Pizza


Pizza as we know it was invented in Naples as a street food for the poor but existed long before that in a very different form.  We know that the ancient Romans made a flatbread that they baked in the sun on their shields, the Greeks have Pitta the Arab world has many types of flatbread, as does India. Ancient flatbread was topped with cheese, honey, fruits like dates and figs, nuts, or vegetables.  Later people added lard or pig fat – this may be the origin of the Pizza Bianca (Pizza base with toppings but no sauce).

Our modern pizza needed a very special ingredient to be brought from the New World by Christopher Columbus: the Pomodoro – orb of gold or tomato.  Initially the Italians thought it was poisonous and used it as a decorative plant.  Later, they realised it wasn’t, cooked it and made sauces from it and Italian cooking (particularly in the South) was forever changed.

Pizza Rossa (with a tomato sauce on the base) was a street food in Naples made by the fisherman’s wife – Marinara. It was a bread base with a tomato sauce with garlic and oregano; no cheese as this would go off on long fishing trips.

Romes Pizza is the best in the world!
Romes Pizza is the best in the world!

Mad about Margherita?


The most famous pizza today, Margherita was invented in Naples in 1889 for the Queen of Italy who was visiting Naples with her husband Umberto I to open a train line.  The story goes she saw the peasants eating this strange food on the streets and she wanted to try it!   Her servants sought out the most famous Pizza maker or pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito, who created a pizza with the finest regional ingredients: a sauce made from the San Marzano tomatoes grown on the slopes of Vesuvius, mozzarella di buffalo from nearby Caserta and Basil leaves. He was also no doubt trying to impress by using the three colours of the new ‘Italian’ flag.  Remember to visit her grave in the Pantheon and pay homage to the Queen!!

The History of Pizza 1
Carpe Diem Rome | The History of Pizza

Varieties of Pizza


Pizza was exported from Italy at the end of the 19th Century by migrants looking for a new life and less than ten years later, pizzerias opened in several cities in the USA.

As with many exported foods, the pizza you will eat in Italy is very different from what we have at home.  The bases are different depending on where you are; Roman pizza is very thin and burnt at the edges.  A curiosity is that the best pizza makers in Rome are Egyptian perhaps because of the similarity to Arab flatbreads.  Neapolitan pizza is smaller and thicker with squishier dough and more tomato sauce.  Neapolitans are purists and some traditional pizzerias in Naples serve only the Marinara and Margherita.  The toppings on pizza are also very different, standard combinations with more vegetables than we use, one of the author’s favourites is a Pizza Bianca with gorgonzola and radicchio.

Just for the Memo


Pineapple is NEVER served on a pizza in Italy. They are slightly offended by the idea – you will get a strange look if you ask for this.  In Naples they will throw you out of the pizzeria!    

A Pepperone pizza is not what you expect! A pepperone is a bell pepper and the processed spicy sausage pepperoni doesn’t really exist.  If you want something similar order a diavola – the devil, which has spicy salami on it.

Pizza in Rome

In Rome there are two types:

Pizza tondo – round pizza that you would eat at a pizzeria with a very thin base slightly burnt on the bottom of the edges.

Pizza al taglio – square pizza which is more like a focaccia that you can find from many take-out pizza places around the city.  You should try both while you are here!!!

How to find the best pizza places in Rome?

  • Go to a pizzeria – don’t expect good pizza anywhere else, they have a special wood-burning pizza oven.  Look for the sign forno a legna
  • Any decent pizzeria should have two lists on the menu; Pizza Bianca and Pizza Rossa
  • Look at the price, a good Roman place will start at €4.50-6.50 for the queen of pizzas a Margherita
  • If there is a queue….. It’s good! Get in line

Carpe Diem Rome’s Favourite Pizzeria List

  • Pizzeria Da Baffetto 
  • La Montecarlo 
  • Alice Pizza
  • Pizza Luigi 

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