The History of Pizza: 1900s to Present Day
Who can say “no” to a second slice of pizza? Not us! That’s why we’re back with Part Two of our History of Neapolitan Pizza.
Last time, we covered the origin story of Neapolitan pizza and learned exactly what makes a Neapolitan pizza, according to the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana. Now we’re going to dive into why Neapolitan pizza has so many strict rules and regulations. Is it because of overzealous, over-protective pizzaiolos? Or is there a very real need to preserve the authenticity of what can be called Neapolitan pizza, and pizza in general?
To answer this question, we first have to trace the journey Neapolitan pizza took to get from a meal fit for a queen to what is now available all over the world in various forms and iterations.
Its prolific rise to global popularity is tied directly to the 25 million people who left Italy between 1880 and 1950 to find better working and living situations throughout Europe and the Americas. One such immigrant, Genarro Lombardi, is credited with opening the first pizzeria in America in New York City circa 1905. He made his pies in the Neapolitan tradition he brought with him from his homeland. Full disclosure, the entire story is mired in mystery and misinformation and some say it was actually Filippo Millone who opened the first pizzeria. Whatever the truth may be, we wouldn’t have our beloved pizza available in virtually every corner of the world if it wasn’t for the hard work and industrious nature of 19th-century Italian immigrants.
However, the early days were not easy. Even as more and more Italian Americans opened pizzerias, they were still unfairly regarded as “ethnic restaurants” only situated in Italian neighbourhoods, serving mostly Italian people. However, the post-World War 2 economic boom proved to also be a “pizza boom.” As disposable incomes increased and North Americans wanted more convenience foods and more variety after years of war rationing and “meat and potatoes” staples, pizza left Little Italy and made its way to dinner tables across the country. After pizza was featured in shows like “I Love Lucy” and “The Honeymooners” and notable stars like Frank Sinatra and Joe Dimaggio were seen enjoying it, pizza unofficially entered the North American diet and earned its place as a national favourite.
Once established as a familiar favourite, things really started to get… interesting. As pizza’s popularity spread across the globe and aspiring pizzaiolos started putting their own creative twists on it, “pizza” was used as a name for many, many forms of toppings baked on bread.
In America alone there is Chicago deep dish, Detroit style, New Haven style, Californian and several other regional versions of pizza that are all very decidedly NOT Neapolitan. In the 1950s and 1960s, pizza chains like Little Caesars and Domino’s started popping up across the country and were starting to set the standard for what “pizza” was with mass-produced dough and cheap ingredients. Looking further abroad, pizza became wildly popular in Japan where it features local ingredients such as fish roe and shiso leaves. In Sweden, bananas are a common pizza topping. Yes, bananas.
With all the “innovation” happening and the proliferation of pizza-as-a-commodity chain restaurants, it’s starting to make sense why some of the oldest pizza-making families from Naples wanted to preserve their style of pizza with official status.
As we learned last time (link to part 1), that’s exactly what they did when they created the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana in 1984. It took some time, but this was eventually followed by a massive resurgence in Neapolitan or at least Neapolitan-like pizza across Canada and the United States. Since the early 2000s, the number of independent pizzerias has increased and they have started to win back some ground from the multinational chains. Many of these independent restaurants feature pizza with thinner crusts and simple yet high-quality ingredients baked in wood-burning or gas-assisted ovens. Sound familiar? Even in Canada, we have popular chains and family-run neighbourhood spots serving these Neapolitan-like pizzas.
Chalk it up to a renewed interest in traditional and authentic foods in the western culinary landscape. But, don’t discount the fact that the hallmarks of Neapolitan pizza - tender hand-tossed dough, high-quality harmonious ingredients and wood-fired ovens - also just make an inherently delicious and satisfying meal. More often than not, simple is best.
That’s how we make our pizza at Christies. We keep it simple. Fresh dough made from scratch and only the finest ingredients. We have been officially trained by the AVPN at the school in Los Angeles and have respect for those rules. We do the best we can to honour tradition and stick to the rules.
Can’t get enough pizza? Same! We compiled a list of some of our favourite pizza-centric TV shows and documentaries below. If you want to keep exploring the history and mythology of pizza, check’em out!
Chef’s Table: Pizza
An entire series about the most famous pizza-makers from across the world produced with the beautiful, elegant sensibilities we’ve all come to expect from the Chef’s Table team.
Ugly Delicious: Season 1, Episode 1
Chef David Chang explores the “authenticity” of pizza from New York to Naples to Copenhagen and even orders delivery from Dominoes.
Absolutely Canadian: The Pizza City You’ve Never Heard Of
A quirky CBC documentary that heralds Windsor, Ontario as one of the great “Pizza Cities” of the world.
Pizza, A Love Story
A heartwarming documentary chronicling the history of three pizza restaurants in New Haven, Connecticut.
Chef’s Table (Season 3, Episode 3): Nancy Silverton
Chef Nancy Silverton explores her Italian heritage and reminiscences about being a driving force in the West Coast dining revolution of the 90s and 2000s.
Have a fond memory of Christies Bakery? Send us an email at email@example.com!