How Did Pizza Get It’s Name: A Brief History

What’s your favorite? New York-style? Chicago deep-dish? Do you like the crust thick or hand-tossed? Extra cheese? Or maybe you’re like me and are crazy for wood fired pizza. Whatever kind of pizza you prefer, we can all agree that pizza is awesome. In fact, it’s so beloved around the world that many different countries claim that they invented the first real pizza.

How did pizza get its name?

Pizza could come from the Greek word “pitta” meaning “pie”, or the Langobardic word “bizzo” meaning “bite”. It was first recorded in a Latin text dated 997 in Italy and entered into an Italian-English dictionary in 1598 as “a small cake or wafer.”

We’ll go over some facts about the history of pizza that you may not know. But before we get to the fun facts, let’s discuss a little more about the origins of pizza.

The Origins of the Word Pizza

In the early 1800s, the word pizza started being used by English speakers. However, an early English lexicographer, John Florio, entered the word pizza even earlier into the 1598 Italian-English dictionary. The definition then was “a small cake or wafer.”

The first record of the word “pizza” was in a Latin text dated 997 AD where it stated the bishop of the Italian town Gaeta, was to receive duodecim pizze or “twelve pizzas” on Christmas Day and Easter Sunday.

We know that the word pizza comes from Italy, but the deeper origins of the word are a bit less clear. Different historians will give different answers to where exactly pizza came from. It also depends on how you define pizza.

Some people believe that pizza comes from the Greek word pitta, or pita, meaning “pie”. Other people say it comes from the Langobardic language, which is an ancient German language from northern Italy. The word bizzo in Langobardic means “bite.”

If you define pizza as a flat bread baked in an oven, then the credit for pizza should go to the Babylonians, Israelites, and Egyptians coming from the Middle East because they ate flatbread baked in ovens made from mud.

Now, if you define pizza as bread with toppings, then the Romans and Greeks should be credited with the invention of pizza. The Romans and Greeks ate bread topped with olive oil and spices. Today we call this dish Focaccia bread.

Who Made the First Pizza?

Most historians credit the Italians with the invention of modern-day pizza. However, baked bread with added toppings can be found in the ancestors of many other cuisines.

The Italian version of pizza, especially pizza from Naples, is the one that most people are familiar with. But Provence’s pissaladiere, Catalonia’s coca, and the Middle East’s lahmacun are all very similar to pizza.

The legend says that modern-day pizza was given to us by Raffaele Esposito, a baker from Naples. In 1889 he made a pizza in honor of King Umberto and Queen Margherita, who came to Naples for a visit. The pizza he made was topped with mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil. He was trying to use the colors of the Italian flag. Queen Margherita was said to have thoroughly enjoyed the pizza. And thus, it became known as Margherita pizza.

Italian immigrants eventually started selling pizza in the United States. In 1905 Gennaro Lombardi opened the first pizzeria in New York City called Lombardi’s. Americans began to really go nuts for pizza after World War II. American soldiers got a taste of pizza while they were stationed in Italy. And they brought their appetite for it with them when they came back home.

Different Kinds of Pizza from Around the World

People may debate which country really deserves credit for the invention of pizza. But one thing is clear. Pizza is beloved by people all over the world! Believe it or not, you can find a version of pizza in almost every region of the world. Since the Neolithic age, pizza-like dishes have been served in many different countries. Flatbread and oven-baked bread with different toppings are very popular everywhere!

Lahma Bi Ajeen

This delicious version of pizza comes from the Lebanese. (It is known by different names in other parts of the Middle East.) Lahma Bi Ajeen translates to “meat with dough.” The dish is usually made with lamb, minced onions, cumin, and yogurt. This one is a must-try. It’s absolutely scrumptious!

Calzone

Calzones are another wonderful version of pizza that originates from Italy. In Italian, calzone means “stocking.” The dish is shaped like a semicircle turnover. It is made of dough that they fold over and fill with the typical pizza ingredients.

Stromboli

People often make the mistake of thinking that calzones and strombolis are the same things. However, they’re actually two different dishes similar in their rolled up shape. There are differing opinions regarding the origins of stromboli. Some people believe that it was invented in 1950 outside of Philadelphia by Romano’s Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria. But others claim that stromboli was invented by a man in Spokane, Washington, who named the dish after the movie Stromboli, starring Ingrid Bergman, which came out in 1954.

Marinara

Marinara is a pizza dish that consists of basic flatbread with tomato, garlic, oil, and oregano. This dish comes from the port Naples, in Italy. The name might come from Italians who would store Marinara on ships, or the wives who would make the pizza for the returning sailors.

Neapolitan

Bakers in Naples were serving pizza in the 1600s. Back then, pizza was considered a street food mainly for poor Neapolitans. At the time, poor people would spend a lot of their time outside of their one-room homes. And they would buy a slice of pizza and eat it as they walked down the street. These pies originally were served without cheese. This is the reason that modern Italian authors call their eating habits disgusting.

The Neapolitan comes from Naples, Italy, and it is the foundation for our modern-day pizza in America. But that all changed around 1889 when the Royal Palace hired the Neapolitan pizza guru Raffaele Esposito and asked him to create a pizza in honor of Queen Margherita. This is how the Neapolitan morphed into the Margherita.

Chicago-style

By the 1930s, Italian-Americans had opened up many pizzerias across New Jersey, Manhattan, and Boston. Then in 1943, a man named Ike Sewell opened Uno’s in Chicago. And thus, Chicago-style pizza was born. Although the popularity of pizza continued to grow, it was still considered food for poor working men.

You can read more here about the history of Chicago-style pizza.

Deep Dish

You eat most pizzas with your hands, but deep-dish pizza is usually eaten with a knife and fork. It originates from Chicago. The Chicago Tribune tells an interesting story about deep-dish pizza. They say that it may have come from a bad enchilada.

The legend says that two partners, Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo, planned to open a restaurant back in 1943. Sewell was a native Texan, and he wanted to serve Mexican food. But after the sample meals made the men sick, they decided to reject Mexican food entirely. Riccardo then suggested pizza, which he had tasted when he was stationed in Italy during the war.

Sewell complained that pizza was unsubstantial. He thought it was not much more than an appetizer. So, after some experimenting, the partners came up with something with plenty of cheese and a very thick crust.

Read more here about different types of pizza all over the world.

Conclusion

As you can see, pizza has been around for a very long time. And today it is more popular than ever, both here in the U.S. and in countries all around the world.

Now, who’s ready to order a large pizza pie for dinner?

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