Established around 600 B.C. as a Greek settlement, Naples in the 1700s and early 1800s was a thriving waterfront city. Technically an independent kingdom, it was infamous for its crowds of working underprivileged, or lazzaroni. "The closer you got to the bay, the more dense their population, and much of their living was done outdoors, in some cases in houses that were little more than a space," stated Carol Helstosky, author of "Pizza: A Global History" and associate professor of history at the University of Denver.
Unlike the rich minority, these Neapolitans needed affordable food that could be consumed quickly. Pizza-- flatbreads with various toppings, eaten for any meal and offered by street vendors or casual restaurants-- satisfied this requirement. "Judgmental Italian authors typically called their eating practices 'horrible,'" Helstosky noted. These early pizzas consumed by Naples' bad included the tasty garnishes precious today, such as tomatoes, cheese, oil, anchovies and garlic.
Legend has it that the taking a trip set became bored with their consistent diet of French haute cuisine and asked for a variety of pizzas from the city's Pizzeria Brandi, the successor to Da Pietro pizzeria, founded in 1760. The range the queen took pleasure in most was called pizza mozzarella, a pie topped with the soft white cheese, red tomatoes and green basil.
Queen Margherita's true blessing could have been the start of an Italy-wide pizza fad. And yet, until the 1940s, pizza would remain little recognized in Italy beyond Naples' borders.
An ocean away, though, immigrants to the United States from Naples were duplicating their dependable, crusty pizzas in New York and other American cities, consisting of Trenton, New Haven, Boston, Chicago and St. Louis. The Neapolitans were coming for factory jobs, as did millions of Europeans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; they weren't looking for to make a cooking declaration. But fairly rapidly, the tastes and fragrances of pizza began to captivate non-Neapolitans and non-Italians.
The very first recorded United States pizzeria was G. (for Gennaro) Lombardi's on Spring Street in Manhattan, accredited to offer pizza in 1905. (Prior to that, the dish was homemade or purveyed by unlicensed vendors.) Lombardi's, still in operation today though no longer at its 1905 location, "has the same oven as it did originally," noted food critic John Mariani, author of "How Italian Food Conquered the World."
Debates over the finest slice in the area can be heated, as any pizza fan understands. Mariani credited 3 East Coast pizzerias with continuing to churn out pies in the century-old custom: Totonno's (Coney Island, Brooklyn, opened 1924); Mario's (Arthur Avenue, the Bronx, opened 1919); and Pepe's (New Haven, opened 1925).
As Italian-Americans, and their food, moved from city to residential area, east to west, specifically after World War II, pizza's appeal in the United States flourished. No longer seen as an "ethnic" treat, it was increasingly identified as a fast, fun food. Regional, decidedly non-Neapolitan variations emerged, eventually including California-gourmet pizzas topped with anything from barbecued chicken to smoked salmon.
Postwar pizza finally reached Italy and beyond. "Like blue jeans and rock and roll, the rest of the world, including the Italians, picked up on pizza just because it was American," explained Mariani. Reflecting local tastes, garnishes can run the range from Gouda cheese in Curaçao to hardboiled eggs in Brazil. Yet global stations of American chains like Domino's and Pizza Hut likewise grow in about 60 different nations. Helstosky thinks among the quirkiest American pizza variations is the Rocky Mountain pie, baked with a supersized, doughy crust to save for last. "Then you dip it in honey and have it for dessert," she stated.
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