Pizza is everything. What should we have for lunch? Pizza. What should we have for dinner? How about pizza? What should we have for breakfast the next day? Definitely leftover pizza.
One of the most popular foods in the world, pizza has become unique and variants have evolved based on culture and preference. There are so many variations, Italy even proposed that it be proclaimed a protected landmark.
On the PBS Idea Channel, Mike Rugnetta delves into the world of pizza, outlining its humble beginnings (in ancient times, people used “bread as a plate”—pizza began as a simple meal that quickly took on a life of it’s own) to and its ever changing, occasionally polarizing ways of being served.
Our historical pizza journey begins with the iconic New York City Slice. In New York City alone, there are an estimated in 2,000 pizza shops, the first of which that we know of having made its NYC debut in 1905 at a restaurant called Lombardi’s. This thin slice is designed for quick service—a plus for the diner on the go.
The New York City slice was developed off the template of Neapolitan pizza; the simple combination of bread, cheese, and tomatoes was considered low-class food at the time, even though these days we classify it as fancy pizza. I’d say we can probably blame that on the “less is more” design standard.
As we move through the history of pizza we learn about the focaccia-based square Sicilian slice, which evolves into the Grandma slice, which evolves into deep-dish. In other words, pizza is the Pokemon of the food world. (The video doesn’t say that, I’m just calling it.)
Chicago style deep-dish pizza arrived on the scene in the 1940s. This evolution of the Sicilian pizza was uniquely localized, and its preference has divided pizza fans throughout the ages.
Pizza’s origins may be in Italy, but the dish has become an all-American pastime, as proved by the proliferation of frozen delivery and pizza delivery. In 1961, Dominick’s Pizza, later renamed Domino’s, invented the idea that “pizza comes to you.” This seemingly obvious idea revolutionized the industry and how we consume the savory pie today.
If we’re learning about the history of pizza, we inevitably end up with leftover pizza, a dish that magically transforms itself overnight into a different meal entirely. As Rugnetta so eloquently puts it, leftover pizza is “an artifact that remains commemorating D&D games, or Netflix marathons, all-nighters, hack-a-thons and various get-togethers.” Mmm, leftover pizza. So many memories, all of them delicious.
The eigth and final slice in this rundown is the international slice. Pizza has become such a global phenomenon that the pie takes on flavors and distinctions characteristically local to its origin. In other countries you’re likely to find toppings as varied as curry, tuna, and even Vegemite.
However you choose to consume pizza, it’s undeniably one of the most popular comfort foods on the planet. So grab a slice and watch A History of Pizza in 8 Slices on the PBS Idea Channel on YouTube.