A Slice of History

Pizza through the ages

By: Sylvia Slezak

The common belief is that Italians invented pizza, but the history of baked bread with toppings goes back to ancient times in the Middle East. Italy’s version of the dish, especially from Naples, is the one we are most familiar with.

Pizza has become a common fixture in our culture. Pizza shops are found in our community, delivery persons bring pies straight to our door and movies and commercials reinforce this pizza craze time after time. But where did pizza begin?

Tasty beginnings
The word, “pizza,” is Italian for “pie,” but how that word wound up in Italian baffles etymologists and its origin is uncertain. It may have come from the Latin pix meaning “pitch” or Greek “pitta,” but others say that it originated in a Langobardic word, “bizzo,” meaning “bite.”

Legend has it that pizza developed in Naples when bakers needed to use up their excess dough for the day, or when they needed something in the oven to keep it warm. Since Neapolitans required inexpensive food that could be consumed quickly, pizza (flatbreads with various toppings, eaten for any meal and sold by street vendors or informal restaurants) met this need. These early pizzas featured the tasty garnishes enjoyed today, such as tomatoes, cheese, oil, anchovies and garlic.

Supposedly, in 1889, a baker in Naples named Raffaele Esposito made a patriotic pie topped with mozzarella, basil and tomatoes in honor of King Umberto and Queen Margherita’s visit. It is rumored the queen enjoyed the pie, and thus, it became known as a Margherita.

Evolution of the American pizza pie
An ocean away, immigrants to the United States from Naples were replicating their crusty pizza versions in New York and other American cities. The first documented U.S. pizzeria was started by Gennaro Lombardi. When Lombardi arrived in America at the age of 14, he was already a baker by trade, and he soon found work in a Brooklyn bakery and at a grocery store on Spring Street in Manhattan.

Several years later, Lombardi bought the grocery store from the aging owner. He truly wanted to generate a customer base by selling pizza, and in 1905, he created a real American pizza business by acquiring the first pizza-selling license for his new shop located at 53 ½ Spring Street. Almost 30 years later, Lombardi closed down his pizzeria and his grandsons soon reopened a pizza shop at 32 Spring St. that still exists today.

Although Lombardi was influenced by the pies of Naples, he was forced to adapt pizza to Americans. The wood-fired ovens and mozzarella “di bufala” were substituted with coal-powered ovens and “fior di latte,” and so began the evolution of the American pie.

As Italian-Americans, and their food, migrated from city to suburb, east to west, especially after World War II, pizza’s popularity in the United States boomed. No longer seen as an “ethnic” treat, it was increasingly identified as a fast, fun food. Regional, decidedly non-Neapolitan variations emerged, eventually including California-gourmet pizzas topped with anything from barbecued chicken to smoked salmon.

Pizza has come down a long road, and it is still a common love for Texans and people all around the world. Since becoming popular in New York, all different styles of pizza have been created and sold. There are pizza parlors that cater to pizza from Milan, Naples, Pompeii and Palermo, but pizza has also taken its own New York style.

Many other cultures have adopted pizza to their own liking, whether it be pizza from different cities in Italy, New York pizza, Mexican pizza or Greek pizza. We can find many different examples throughout Texas and Corpus Christi that have a unique twist of their own.

Pizza style and flavor
Here is a small sampling of where unique “pizza” style and flavor can be found within Corpus Christi.

• At Padre Pizzeria, you can taste the gourmet difference with a “create your own pizza” or choice of Barbecue, Bacon Cheeseburger, Greek, Hot Wings, Thai Surprise, Amore Roma, Philly Chzsteak, the Sicilian, the Kitchen Sink, Veggies Galore, CanBanCorn or Creamy Sriracha.

• For handmade pizza from scratch, Authentic New York Pizza on S. Staples is the home of the best 16-inch pizza in town. As the pizza is served steaming hot and loaded with tasty toppings, you are sure to be delightfully satisfied. Their specialty pizzas are Penne a la Vodka, Chicken Alfredo, Greek, Brooklyn Bomber and Texas Pizza. The favorites include Hawaiian and Margarita with homemade mozzarella.

• Stone-baked pizza at Island Italian Restaurant is worth every minute. Your choices of toppings are pepperoni, sausage, ham, anchovy, mushrooms, beef, Canadian bacon, Italian rope sausage and more.

Sylvia Slezak is the director of marketing and social media at CityOf.com. For more information, visit us online at www.cityof.com/corpuschristi and explore the featured premier restaurants, attractions and local events.

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