Put on Your Chef Jackets – A History of Pizza
Bread was invented in the Neolithic period; and ancient records reveal many people including other ingredients in bread to improve its flavor. In Ancient Greece a flat bread flavored with toppings such as onions, garlic, and herbs was very popular. Persian soldiers in uniform jackets under Darius the Great baked flat bread on their shields, and then put on toppings of dates and cheese. The word pizza is a medieval Latin term first used in 997 AD to mean a flatbread galette .
A pizza was merely a piece of dough which bakers used in order to test the temperature of their ovens, and which was sold to poor people who could not afford to buy real bread. In the sixteenth century white sauce was first used to cover the pizza; and later oil, cheese, or fish were used as toppings. The innovation which gives pizza its unique place in culinary history is the use of tomatoes for a topping. Tomatoes were introduced into Europe from America in the sixteenth century; but at first they had the false reputation of being poisonous (since they belong to the nightshade family). However, the late eighth century saw poor people in Naples adding tomatoes to their flat bread; and that pizza was born. The dish grew in popularity, sold on the streets of Naples at open air stands and by street vendors who obtained their pizzas from bakeries.
The oldest pizzeria in the world is Naples' Antica Pizzeria Port'Alba , which in 1738 began producing pizzas for street peddlers in chef coats, and which became a pizza restaurant in its own right in 1830 (and is still in business at the same promises now). Alexandre Dumas the elder, writing in 1830, explained that pizza was the main food of the poor people of Naples during the winter, and that this pizza was flavored with oil, tallow, lard, cheese, tomatoes, or anchovies. In 1889, in order to honor Italy's Queen consort Margherita of Savoy, "Pizza Margherita" was created by chef Rafaele Esposito: this pizza was garnished with mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, and basil in order to symbolize the colors on the Italian flag.
Pizza came to the United States with the Italian immigrants in chef jackets who began arriving in the late nineteenth century. American cities with large populations of Italians, such as New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Francisco, featured pizza peddlers in their Italian neighborhoods who sold their wares from cylindrical copper drums with false bottoms filled with charcoal (from the pizza oven) to keep the pizzas hot. Soon groceries and small cafés in Italian neighborhoods began offering pizza. An entire pizza pie cost five cents; but since this was too expensive for many people, slices were sold for a penny each. It is believed that the first pizzeria in America was Gennaro Lombardi's grocery store in New York City's Little Italy section, which opened as a pizzeria in 1905.