January 17th officially marks World Pizza Day, or la Giornata Mondiale della Pizza. This simple, yet delicious food is not just appreciated in Italy, but all over the world! Here is some food for thought.
Modern pizza as we know it can be traced to the city of Naples (in Southern Italy), however its history really dates back to around the 8th century BC, when the ancient Etruscans were around. They made a thick dough from ground grains, which was baked beneath hot ashes and then topped with seasoned oils, herbs, and other available ingredients. The Romans eventually called this round dough panus focus, which was like a round focaccia that was used to hold different foods on top.
Fast forwarding to the early 16th century, these small round flatbreads topped with herbs and oil (referred to as pizza in Naples) were a popular street food in Naples. Only towards the end of the century would tomatoes arrive to Europe from the New World and eventually top the pizza.
In the early 19th century, the city of Naples was packed with people who couldn’t afford much food, so they needed something cheap that could be eaten quickly. Street vendors would sell pizza topped with various things to feed them. Yup, pizza was considered a street food! In fact, even today in the city of Naples, pizza is still served on the streets in the form of pizza a portafolio (or wallet pizza because it is folded a few times).
So, how did Pizza Margherita become so famous? Well, legend says that in the year 1889 Queen Margherita of Savoy and King Umberto I were visiting the city of Naples. In order to honor her visit, local pizza maker Raffaele Esposito decided to make a pizza using ingredients to match the Italian flag: basil (green), mozzarella (white), and tomato sauce (red).
This pizza is so famous that in 1984, the Verace Pizza Napoletana (True Neapolitan Pizza) association was founded in order to teach, promote, and preserve this culinary cultural treasure. In the year 2010, this Neapolitan pizza got the designation of STG, Specialità Tradizionale Garantita (or Guaranteed Traditional Speciality). Furthermore, in 2017, the art of Neapolitan pizza-making was honored with UNESCO’s “intangible cultural heritage” status. Finally, World Pizza Day is declared and held on January 17th, the feast day of S. Antonio Abate (or Anthony Abbot), the patron saint of pizza makers, as well as the protector of animals.
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