Did you know?
While the modern form of Pizza evolved in Naples around the 18th or early 19th century, a flatbread named Plakous topped with olive oil, herbs, onion, cheese, and garlic and then baked in a mud oven originated in the 5th century ( 401 - 500AD) in Greece! Because Naples was founded as a Greek city, modern Pizza may have roots in Greek cuisine.
Pizza for Breakfast
Under the Bourbon kings, Naples had become one of the largest cities in Europe – and it was growing fast. Fuelled by overseas trade and a steady influx of peasants from the countryside, its population ballooned from 200,000 in 1700 to 399,000 in 1748. Many city residents became impoverished as the urban economy struggled to keep up. The most abject of these were known as lazzaroni because their ragged appearance resembled that of Lazarus. Numbering around 50,000, they scraped by on the pittance they earned as porters, messengers or casual labourers. Always rushing about in search of work, they needed food that was cheap and easy to eat. Pizzas met this need. Street vendors carried huge boxes under their arms; customers could cut them to satisfy their budgets or appetites. The simplest were topped with nothing more than garlic, lard and salt. But others included caciocavallo (a cheese made from horse’s milk), Cuccinelli (whitebait) or basil. Some even had tomatoes on top. Only recently introduced from the Americas, these were still curious and looked down upon by contemporary gourmets. But their unpopularity – and hence their low price – made them attractive.
All that changed after Italian unification. While visiting Naples in 1889, King Umberto I and Queen Margherita grew tired of the complicated French dishes they were served for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Hastily summoned to prepare some local specialties for the queen, the pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito cooked three sorts of Pizza: one with lard, caciocavallo and basil; another with cecenielli; and a third with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. The queen was delighted. Her favourite – the last of the three – was christened pizza Margherita in her honour. This signalled a significant shift. Margherita’s seal of approval not only elevated the Pizza from being a food fit only for lazzaroni to being something a royal family could enjoy but also transformed Pizza from a local into a truly national dish. It introduced the notion that Pizza was a genuinely Italian food – akin to pasta and polenta.