Did Pizza Originate In China? Uncovering The Old Tale

The Chinese dish “cong you bing”

A savory steaming piece of cheesy pizza is one of the world’s favorite foods. There are so many stories surrounding the origins of pizza, and so many different variations around the world – it’s hard to tell where the original recipe came from. One story is that it originated in China. In order to find the origins of pizza, we are going to have to dive a little deeper.

Did pizza originate in China? Explorer Marco Polo brought a Chinese scallion pancake, Cong You Bing, to Italy in the 13th century. But flatbread foods are found throughout history in Persia, Greece, and Egypt. The origin is hard to pinpoint, but the origin of the modern pizza is Naples, Italy in the 1700s.

While the Chinese legend of pizza is convenient, the true history of pizza is far more complicated than that. In fact, pizza’s beginnings can be found in many cultures, each with its own twist on the food and the story. One thing is for sure though; pizza is a worldwide favorite for both young and old. But the history of pizza is a bit unclear, to say the least.

We must first define pizza before we can carry on. Pizza is defined as “a cuisine with a flat, round base of dough topped with tomato sauce and cheese.” Of course there are other toppings that can be added.

The Full Story of Marco Polo’s Chinese Pizza

Italian merchant and explorer, Marco Polo.

As we mentioned, according to Chinese legend, a dish similar to pizza, Cong you Bing is the root of the pizza we have today. The full legend is as follows:

Back in Italy from China, Marco Polo was interested in the dish he enjoyed in China called Cong You Bing or Scallion Pancakes, which was a bread dish filled with cheese and toppings. He searched high and low for a chef to make the dish, to no avail. One day, he was at a friend’s dinner party and he discussed this with the chef there, who was from Naples.

He persuaded the chef to try to recreate the dish, and after a day of attempts, they found no success. Marco Polo suggested that the toppings be placed on top of the bread instead of inside and people fell in love with the new dish. Pizza was born. The chef returned to Naples, where he continued to make the dish and also added additional toppings such as meat and vegetables.

Is The Legend True?

Historical evidence suggests that pizza was not invented by Marco Polo. The word “pizza” was first recorded in 997 AD, 250 years before Marco Polo was born. There are also competing legends that indicate the origin of pizza came from somewhere else.

Other Pizza Legends From Around The World

While the Chinese legend may seem to explain pizza well, there are actually many other stories surrounding the invention of pizza.

  • Persian soldiers in 6th Century BC baked flatbreads with cheese and dates on top of their battle shields.
  • In Ancient Greece, citizens ate a flatbread dish called plakous, which was flavored with toppings such as herbs, onion, cheese, and garlic.
  • In Aeneid in 19 BC, Celaeno, a queen from Greek mythology, foretold that the Trojans would not find peace until they “ate their tables.” The trojans were then served a meal of round cakes topped with cooked vegetables. When the soldiers ate the bread, they realized that the “tables” they were to eat were actually the bread dish they were being served.
  • It is suggested that Pizza came from Passover cookies called Pizzarelli, and they were eaten by Roman Jews after returning from the synagogue.

Where Did Pizza As We Know It Originate?

The answer is: Italy. Historians agree that modern pizza came to be once the tomato was added to the dish focaccia in Naples in the 18th century. The working poor needed a quick – and cheap – food to sustain them through their rough jobs.

This ingredient-topped focaccia began showing up on the streets of Naples. There’s more than one book written about this version of pizza history. Here’s one of them.

Variations of Pizza Around The World

Our modern version of pizza may have a foggy history, but it still is enjoyed around the world in different ways. A meal of bread, topped with cheese, meat, and vegetables, is present in numerous cultures and regions. Here are some different versions of pizza-like cuisine from around the world.

  • Adjaruli Khachapuri, Georgia – Resembling a pizza boat, this dish is made of egg, bread and usually mozzarella, feta, and imureli cheese
  • Zapiekanka, Poland – This baguette-like pizza dish resembles an open-faced sandwich, which is usually topped with cheese, mushrooms and polish ketchup.
  • Margherita pizza, Naples, Italy – Also known as Neopolitan Pizza, this dish has tomatoes, chunks of mozzarella, basil, and olive oil.
  • Pizza Bianca, Rome, Italy – This bread dish has no sauce or cheese. It is simply pizza-like bread seasoned with sea salt and other seasonings.
  • Lahmacun or Lahmajoun, Turkey/Armenia – This thin and crispy flatbread is usually topped with spicy minced lamb or beef, onion, tomato, lettuce, fresh parsley, and lemon.
  • Okonomiyaki, Japan – This Japanese pancake-like dish is topped with cabbage and seafood toppings as well as sauces like octopus, shrimp, pork, yam, and kimchi.

With so many different variations of pizza-like cuisines, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where a flatbread ends and a pizza begins.

However, a pizza-like dish of bread, cheese, meat, and vegetables is present in many cultures and has been for centuries. While it may be a different twist on the cuisine, it is still the basic concept of a pizza-like meal which is enjoyed by everyone around the world.

Modern Day Facts About Pizza

Pizza has an interesting history, and it continues to wow consumers worldwide. It is the most popular food in America and continues to be a big part of our culture. Here are some interesting facts about pizza:

  • In 1962, the Hawaiian Pizza, a pizza topped with pineapples and ham, was invented by a restaurant owner in Canada.
  • In 2012, the world’s largest pizza was cooked in Rome and measured 1261 square meters in area.
  • There are 70,000 pizzerias in the United States, totaling 17% of U.S. restaurants.
  • The average American eats more than 20 pounds of pizza each year.
  • Americans order 350 slices of pizza every second.
  • Pepperoni is the most popular pizza.
  • Saturday is the most popular night to eat pizza.
  • A pizza was ordered from the International Space Station, and it was sent in a rocket. It was topped with extra spices because taste buds are dulled in space.

Conclusion Of The Chinese Pizza Legend

The Chinese origin of pizza is nothing more than a legend. While the story attempts to explain the dish, it fails to recognize that pizza has been around for centuries and a pizza-like dish is present in numerous cultures. The dish we know today as ‘pizza’ is recognized as originating in Naples in the 1700s. Check out this story on History.com.

While the Chinese Legend of Cong You Bing may explain how the Chinese dish transformed into pizza, it doesn’t explain it for the rest of the world. Pizza-like cuisines with sauce, cheese, meat, and vegetable toppings are present in many cultures around the world and it seems that everyone agrees that pizza is delicious. Pizza is enjoyed by many and while the legend of how it came to be is foggy, it is a dish that is here to stay.

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