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Pizza Round the World – Cultural Tuesday with Debora Mordowski

By mahir | October 5, 2010

Bread, cheese and tomato; in no dish is this classic combination more flavorful than in a Pizza.

Most of us consider pizza something that we can eat in passing.  When there’s no time to cook, there’s not enough food at a party, or we’re simply feeling lazy and with a huge craving for tomato sauce, we make a call and a round pie is delivered to us in no time.  But, we seldom stop to think of how this crusty, gooey, delicious food became an international phenomenon.

The simplicity of pizza speaks to its origins.  Flat bread spans back to the Mediterranean in ancient times where the dish looked much like a modern foccacia.  Greeks topped the plankuntos (early Greek pizza) with olive oil and spices.  Legend has it that Romans tasted Jewish matzah, and imported the pita like flat bread to Italy, which they topped with oil, herbs and cheese.

Flat bread evolved into the first Italian pizzas, which historically were considered a peasant’s meal, as ingredients were simple and affordable.  Interestingly, tomatoes were widely used by the poor population since, at first, they graced Europe’s vegetable repertoire only as decoration, as they were thought to be poisonous.  It was by the 19th century that Italian peasants ventured to add the sweet vegetable as a topping.  In the late 1800s, Naples baker Raffaele Esposito introduced the first Margherita pizza topped with cheese, tomato and basil when he baked in honor of King Umberto and his Queen Margherita, and the rest is history.

In time, the pizza became an outlet for endless culinary creativity and a means for reflecting international tastes and preferences.  Each country has its staple topping and favorite shape, which make the pizza eating experience a fabulous feast for the senses.  In Uruguay, the national pizza is a meter-long rectangle that is cut into small square pieces and served only with tomato sauce.  Additional toppings such as cheese, meats and vegetables are extras and have to be requested.  In India, the most popular is topped with chopped mutton, paneer cheese and pickled ginger.  In Japan, pizza is made of cabbage, and in Russia it is graced with different fish and seafood.  Toppings are countless, and you can create your own delicious pizza by just melting cheese on a piece of bread and adding any of your favorite ingredients!

And, if you’re ever in the mood for a dessert pizza, go to Max Brenner’s in New York City and enjoy a chocolate pizza topped with nutella, marshmallows and bananas. Yum!

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