In all of the various stories about the history of pizza, the background of the margherita pizza is perhaps the most interesting. This iconic Neapolitan pizza featuring mozzarella, marinara and basil is one of the most beloved Italian pizzas and is a fixture of legitimate Italian pizzerias all over the world.
Here’s a crash course in the history of this delightful pizza dish.
From the home of pizza
Naples is widely considered to be the original birthplace of pizza. The city was founded in the 16th century, and at the time, much of the population was extremely poor. Pizza was a simple dish that could be sold cheaply by street vendors, as it just featured flatbread with toppings, and it could be customized and eaten for any meal.
The earliest pizza toppings were tomatoes, cheese, olives, garlic and anchovies. By the mid-1800s, pizza had been a staple for a long time. But in 1889, King Umberto I and Queen Margherita, who ruled over the newly unified Italy, were planning a visit to Naples, and locals needed a way to impress them.
The legend goes that Queen Margherita was sick of gourmet French cuisine that was the standard among European royalty, and thus commissioned Raffaele Esposito, Naples’ most highly regarded pizza maker, to create three different pizzas for her.
Esposito and his wife followed through on this commission. The first two pizzas developed didn’t quite tickle the queen’s fancy. One was pizza marinara, which featured marinara and garlic, and the other was pizza Napoli, which featured anchovies. But the third pizza, which was inspired by the colors of the Italian flag, was the one the queen enjoyed the most. Esposito decided to name it after the queen.
The note Esposito received from a chamberlain is still displayed in Pizzeria Brandi, at which Esposito worked, though historians are uncertain of the validity of the note, as they note some disparities between its royal stamp and some of the other royal stamps of the day. This has led some to question whether the note is a forgery, and whether Queen Margherita ever even came to the town and commissioned the pizzas. Some say it may have just been a ruse to be able to sell more pizzas.
If it was a ruse, it certainly worked—the margherita pizza became a national and then an international sensation, and remains the most popular traditional Italian pizza offering. Its simplicity is its attraction—there’s something quite satisfying about the combination of marinara, mozzarella and basil.
After World War II, veterans who had been exposed to pizza in Italy came home craving the flavors they’d discovered there, which led to the explosion of pizza chains in the United States. But it is impossible to match the original masterpieces of Italian pizzerias!
We do love taking a look back at the history of pizza every now and then, but the present is pretty great as well! We encourage you to check out our offerings at Giovanni’s Frozen Pizza and try something that looks delicious to you.