It's generally said that while Rome is the heart of Italy, Naples is the soul. For most people that's true for one distinct reason: it's the birthplace of pizza, arguably the world's most iconic and best loved comfort food.
You may consider yourself a pizza enthusiast or even connoisseur, but few truly know where (and how) this global favourite began. So buckle up for what is probably the most delicious origins story ever...
Unlike its rival Italian cities like Rome or Florence, the artistic city of Naples sets itself apart by not being a bustling tourist hotspot. Why? Because it’s not the most picturesque, most rich or most charming city in Italy. However, what Naples lacks in stunning architecture and leaning towers, it makes up for in character. Above all, Naples holds one thing to it’s name that has centred its global influence: it’s the birthplace of what would soon become the most universally adored food.
Pizza became a popular commodity in Naples in the 18th century among the cities poor. The tomatoes that were used on top of the flatbread were actually brought over from Peru and at first, the citizens of Naples were convinced they were poisonous. However, once they’d established that they were delicious red balls of heaven, the pizza was born – named ‘Pizza Marinara’ after the mariners who began eating the tomato-topped flatbread at the harbour.
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The marinara pizza had humble beginnings, but who do we have to thank endlessly for the genius of the tomato-cheese feast that we know as pizza today?
That would be one Neapolitan baker by the name of Raffaele Esposito, who introduced cheese to the mix in 1889, thus proving the age-old theory that everything tastes better with cheese on it. Topping the pizza with fresh tomatoes, basil and mozzarella (the three colours of the Italian flag) he pioneered the creation we know and love today, coining it ‘Pizza Margherita’ after Queen Margharita of Savoy (who this twist on a Neapolitan classic was created for). Forget chocolates or cards – when on earth will someone create a pizza and name it after us?
You’d think that from there, Naples would have become the world leaders in experimenting with different toppings on this classic creation. That, however, is far from the truth. While pizzerias line every street corner, you’d be hard pressed to find a pizza that strays from the classic 3 ingredient make-up. Bad news for those who enjoy pineapple on their pizza, because the people of Naples are the ultimate purists (and if you’ve ever tasted a classic Napoletean pizza, you’d agree that they have every right to be).
While the ingredients may seem basic, the classic Neapolitan is anything but. Today, pizza in Naples is a serious matter with its own set of rigorous rules which the Pizzaioli (the pizza makers) have to abide by. There’s even an official governing body for pizza, called the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, who ensure all Napoletan pizzas are up to scratch. They have to meet certain requirements which include using only the finest mozzarella di Bufala, and even a specific type of tomato. What’s more, the dough cannot be stretched more than 0.4 centimetres in thickness, and can only be cooked in wood fired ovens. Yep – if you thought making pizza was simple, think again.
So next time you’re munching down on your favourite slice topped with just about every meat, cheese and vegetable under the sun, remember that bombarding your pizza with that much would likely get you thrown into pizza jail in Naples. Sometimes it’s good to strip it back to a simple Margharita or Marinara, to remember that those flavours are more than enough on their own. If it’s good enough for Italians, it’s good enough for us…