Modern pizza is basically no more than a circle of dough spread with sauce and sprinkled with cheese. It’s probably these simple elements that have made pizza a worldwide staple; most cuisines include some kind of flatbread that can be topped with oils, vegetables, and meats. The ancient Greeks made circular dough “plates” that they called plankuntos. One of the earliest recorded “ancestors” of pizza is the dough that foot soldiers of Persia’s Darius the Great baked on their shields. The Persian soldiers put cheese and dates on their bread, and over the years olive oil, herbs, honey, pine nuts, goat cheese, and many other foods were tried and enjoyed on flatbreads. Our evidence that pizza was a specialty of Naples, Italy, comes from A.D. 79. The volcanic eruption that buried the Italian city of Pompeii and part of neighbouring Neopolis, or Naples, preserved a bakery run by pizzaioli, forerunner of today’s pizzeria.
uFor reasons that may never be entirely clear, Neapolitans embraced pizza with gusto, perfecting a chewy crust (Romans prefer theirs crispy) and experimenting with New World tomatoes until the “pizza marinara” was born. Although marinara means “of the sea,” this pizza had nothing fishy about it—it was simply the favourite snack of sailors and anglers returning to town after weeks offshore.
Naples is also home to the first true modern pizzeria, Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, which opened in 1830. By the late 19th century, “pizza a la Margherita” had become very popular. This tomato, mozzarella, and basil pie echoed the colours of the newly created Italian flag, and was the favourite of Queen Margherita di Savoia. Thus, when immigrants from the new nation came to the United States, they brought their trendiest pizza with them, and Americans came to regard this simple, tasty combination as the way pizza should taste. By the time Gennaro Lombardi opened the first U.S. pizzeria in 1905 on Manhattan’s Spring Street, “pizza pie” had come a long way from its origins as a plate.