Today’s Naples is filled with famous pizzerias. You’ll spot them by the huge lines outside of clients patiently waiting for a table.
Although precursors to pizza, breads to which toppings were added for flavor, existed in ancient times, the word ‘pizza’ was first in common use by the end of the tenth century in central and southern Italy, but it was probably a type of foccaccia, a thick, flat bread, to which toppings were added.
In Naples by the 16th century, pizza was a common street food for the poor to fill them during their working days.
By the 18th century, Neapolitans began to add tomatoes as a topping. Although tomatoes (indigenous to the Americas) reached Italy in the 16th century, they were considered poisonous by many and were used as a purely decorative plant. It was only in the 18th century that the tomato began to be introduced into the Italian diet, and to become such an integral part of traditional dishes. Including pizza.
However, it still took some time for this “peasant food” to be widely accepted into broader society.
Once it was, it even became a food served to kings and queens. The most famous instance of a pizza-based menu led to the invention of the ‘Pizza Margherita’.
In 1889, not long after the Risorgimento that united Italy, the Savoy King Umberto I and Queen Margherita travelled to Naples.
The pizzaiolo (pizza chef) Raffaelle Esposito, who worked at a famous pizzeria (still in business today, and now called Pizzeria Brandi) baked three different pizzas for their dinner.
Esposito decided to create one pizza with the three colors of the new Italian flag: tomatoes for red, mozzarella for white, and basil leaves for green. He named it in honor of Queen Margherita, and she declared it her favorite. And thus, the Pizza Margherita was born.
Be sure to save space for pizza on your next trip to Naples. And for other tips on what to see in Naples, look at my earlier post on the San Carlo opera.