Monday, October 16, 2006

The Origins of Pizza

Though pizza has been immensely popular in the United States since veterans brought it home with them after WWII, the dish has been around for thousands of years.

The true origins are not documented, but it is known that Roman soldiers returning home from the Palistinian occupation brought back flat matzo bread which they topped with various comestibles. Other people living along the Mediterranean -- Greeks, Egyptians, etc. -- enjoyed a flat pita type bread (focaccia) that was often topped with oil and spices.

Pizza as we know it was first created by the Neopolitans. They were among the first Europeans to adopt the tomato, which had been considered poisonous when it was first brought over by the Spaniards. Another important import was the Indian water buffalo which provided the milk for mozzarella.

The definitive pizza, though, was created by a Neopolitan named Raffaele Esposito in the late 1800s. King Umberto I and Queen Marghatira were paying a visit to Naples, and Esposito wanted to prepare something for them that was both uniquely regional and patriotic. So he baked the flat bread and decorated it in the colors of the Italian flag: green (basil), white (mozarella) and red (tomatoes) for the royal visitors and named it after the queen (pizza ala Margharita). Apparently the King and Queen enjoyed it enough to give it a royal thumbs up and the dish's popularity spread quickly.

Italian immigrants brought pizza to the United States, and the first pizzaria was opened in 1905 by Gennaro Lombardi. It is still in operation today and uses the original Lombardi recipe.

Americans eat approximately 100 acres of pizza daily. That's about 350 slices per second, or 3 billion pizzas per year, or 46 slices per capita per year, adding up to about $30 billion in annual pizza sales.

Favorite pizza toppings vary, depending on where you live. In America, pepperoni is by far the favorite topping, (2.5 million pounds per year!). In Russia, the favorite is a combination of tuna, salmon, sardines, mackeral and onions, mmm. Ordering pizza in India? Try the pickled ginger, minced mutton and paneer. Or Curry in Pakistan. Eel and squid in Japan. This Australian favorite sounds good -- shrimp and pineapple. You're likely to find coconut on your pizza in Costa Rica, green peas if you're in Brazil, or bacon, onion and fresh cream in France.



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