I remember the first time I ate a slice of pizza. I was 14 and we were in New York on a family holiday and a friend of the family decided that we had to eat pizza the New York way. And I was in love. The slice was larger than my face and it was better than anything I had ever eaten in my life. From that moment on, I believed that that’s what pizza was meant to be like – thin crust, foldable and one slice per person. Little did I know that there was more to the world of pizzas than what I had eaten at that New York pizzeria.
Thanks to pizza chains opening up all over the world, the idea of pizza has changed. Thin crust has been traded in for thick crusts loaded with cheese, bacon and even beer these days, simple toppings like tomato, olives and cheese have been replaced with seven different kinds of meats and six different kinds of cheese. While I’m a food follower/food nerd, call me what you will as long as it’s not ‘foodie’, and will try everything at least once, I must admit that there is nothing more delicious than the simple pizza loaded with cheese and slices of pepperoni. Honestly, there isn’t even another pizza that wins in my books the way a pepperoni pizza does.
As an ardent pizza lover, I can’t even say that I don’t order from the pizza chains and I’m not even a pizza purist by any stretch of the imagination, but sometimes I wish that I could order a pizza that is both tasty and looks exactly like how I imagine pizzas to look – thin, covered in cheese, sauce and meat. Or you know, have the chance to go back to New York one more time just to eat those pizzas.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF PIZZA
The word “pizza” was first documented in 997 AD in Gaeta and then in 16th century Naples, a Galette flatbread was referred to as a pizza and was known as the dish for poor people. Then in 1843, Alexandre Dumas (author of The Three Musketeers), described the diversity of pizza toppings. Of course there’s the story that on 11 June 1889, to honour the Queen consort of Italy, Margherita of Savoy, the Neapolitan pizzamaker Raffaele Esposito created the “Pizza Margherita”, a pizza garnished with tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil, to represent the national colours of Italy as on the Italian flag.
However, until the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, the dish was sweet, not savory, and earlier versions which were savory more resembled the flat breads. Pellegrino Artusi’s classic early twentieth century cookbook, La Scienza in cucina e l’Arte di mangiar bene gives three recipes for pizza, all of which are sweet. By 1927, Ada Boni’s collection of regional cooking includes a recipe using tomatoes and mozzarella.
In 1984 the True Neapolitan Pizza Association was founded and they set very specific rules that were to be followed for an authentic Neapolitan pizza. Including that the pizza must be baked in a wood-fired, domed oven; that the base must be hand-kneaded and must not be rolled with a pin or prepared by any mechanical means and that the pizza must not exceed 35 centimeters in diameter or be more than one-third of a centimeter thick at the center. The association also selected pizzerias around the world to produce and spread the verace pizza napoletana philosophy and method.
The famous pizzeria “Da Michele” founded in 1870 stands by the fact that there are only two true kinds of pizza – the Marinara and the Margherita. But today there are so many more options and these two originals are no longer popular or even known by most pizza eaters.
THE PIZZA OF TODAY
Unlike most of the fast food that has taken over the world, pizzas were originally vegetarian, so there’s no way that you could go wrong by adding vegetables as toppings. But what does happen often is that the vegetables and the vegetarian toppings get a little out of hand. We’ve got paneer and aloo (potato) and pretty much any other vegetable you can think of. The pizza topping world is open to just about anything you want.
I wish I could say that I’ve eaten authentic pizza and tasted what the original ones are meant to be like, but I do know that the newer range of pizzas with the colourful bell peppers and the barbeque chicken and the tangy sauce and the this, that and the other aren’t half as good as what pizzas should taste like. I wish that I was like Michaelangelo from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, just getting excited at the idea of pizza in general. Some days, I am like that, but most days, I look at the menu of a pizza outlet and I find myself confused by my options.
When forced into choosing a pizza, I’d select the simplest and least complicated one, without all the fancy crust and fillings, just give me something traditionally good and I’ll give you my soul.