Word Fact: What’s The Origin of Pizza?

pizza, chalkboard

The word pizza is Italian for pie, but how that word wound up in Italian boggles etymologists. It may have come from the Latin pix meaning “pitch” or Greek pitta, but others say that it originated in a Langobardic word bizzo meaning “bite.”

Where did the dish itself emerge? The common belief is that Italians invented pizza, but a baked bread with toppings has many other precursors in other cuisines. Italy’s version of the dish, especially from Naples, is the one we are most familiar with, though pissaladière from Provence, coca from Catalan, and lahma bi ajeen from the Middle East all bear a remarkable resemblance to pizza.

Supposedly, this archetypal pizza, an open-faced pie slathered in tomato sauce and mozzarella, was ushered in by the baker Raffaele Esposito in Naples. In 1889, he made a patriotic pie topped with mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes, ingredients the colors of the Italian flag, in honor of King Umberto and Queen Margherita’s visit. It is rumored the Queen enjoyed the pie, and thus, it became known as a Margherita.

In the US, Italian immigrants sold pizza in their stores, and the first pizzeria was opened in 1905 by Gennaro Lombardi at 53 1/3 Spring Street in New York City, but pizza did not truly not catch on stateside until World War II. Stationed in Italy, many American and European soldiers tasted pizza, and brought an appetite for this now-ubiquitous dish home with them.

Where’s your favorite slice from?