A History of Pizza in 8 Slices!

[MUSIC PLAYING] The first pizzeria in New
York is also the first pizzeria in the United States. Lombardi’s opened in
1905 just down the street at its original location when
Italian immigrant Gennaro Lombardi decided to convert
his grocery into a pizza shop based on the popularity
of one of his employee’s handmade pies. Now it’s a bit of
a family problem. But one estimate for the number
of pizza shops in the five boroughs is at around
2000, many of them serving and some of them focused
on the slice, which incidentally you can’t get at
Lombardi’s, only whole pies here. So we’re going to have
to go somewhere else. In New York City, this really
is something of a staple. I mean, I have heard people
describe the New York slice as nothing short
of a way of life. Distilled down into this
single piece of pizza is the stereotypical
New York rush. I want to be served
quickly and cheaply. I want to walk and eat and
be satisfied and not late for my Idea Channel shoot. Today we’re going to talk about
many different kinds of pizza, both literal and
figurative, back on the Idea Channel set
with pizza, literal pizza, because if we’re making
an episode about it it’s a business expense. There’s evidence going as far
back as ancient Rome, Greece, and Egypt that, as
Carol Helstosky says in “Pizza A Global
History”, people used, quote, “bread as
a plate”, which is pizza’s essential characteristic
besides its main toppings, cheese, tomato sauce,
and as John Green says, possibly other. Bread as plate, Helstosky
says, puts pizza in the same lineage as
pita, lavash, and tortilla. But what we would
point at and go, mmm, pizza, didn’t come together
until 18th century Naples, Italy. Considered low class
food, Neapolitan pizza, which we may call flat bread
or thin crust pizza now, was the first widely recognized
marriage of bread, tomato, cheese, and possibly other
put into an oven and baked, though the possibly other
wouldn’t become a craze until the mid 20th century. The tomatoes that are so often
the base of a slice or a pie didn’t make it to Italy from
Central and South America until the mid 16th century. Let’s just think about that
briefly, a time in Italy without tomatoes. When they arrived, it was thanks
to the Colombian Exchange. At first, most Europeans
thought tomatoes were poisonous being in the
deadly nightshade family of plants. So they were sold as
ornaments and decoration until some brave soul
somewhere ate one. Mmm. Golden Apple. This puts pizza at a crossroads. Adventurousness and complex
economic and cultural trade resulting from
colonialism eventually produced a simple, satisfying
food with humble origins. Since its start, pizza has
depended upon globalization. Trade got the
ingredients to Italy. Immigration brought
it to America, whose cultural dominance
brought it to the world. And at the end of
that complex process, its kind of funny to think that
we’re likely to call something that looks like
this fancy pizza. While Neapolitan
pizza was rounding out on the Western coast,
further south in Palermo, Sicily there was a different
square shaped pie in the works. Sicilian pizza is
based on focaccia, a thick bread that’s often
topped with salt, garlic, and herbs. So while it doesn’t resemble
the iconic pizza emoji, this is still pizza,
which is important, because though there are first
pizzarias, Lombardi’s, Antika Pizzeria, Portalba in Naples,
it’s tough if not impossible to point to a
platonic pizza ideal. There’s no single original
model that all pizza references. The economic climate and
poverty stricken population combined with
available materials at pizza’s genesis to help
feed whole families cheaply in a way that was
satisfying and nutritional. More so than many other foods
beyond its central ingredients, pizza is historically
a culinary solution to a particular set of
economic, cultural, and dietary conundrums which differ between
the communities experiencing them. Pizza may have gone global. But it is, in some
sense, always local. Related to the Sicilian
slice but distinct is what is often called
the grandma slice, which admits something great about
pizza that I think we rarely confront explicitly. It involves family,
maybe not literally, but gathering around people
and sharing a meal with them. I think about this whenever
I get a slice from the corner pizza shop. What strangers are
eating a slice pulled from the same pie as mine? Who am I, in some distributed
and emergent sense, sharing a meal with? Who are my pizza pals, my
pie ties, my cheese chums? This is not to say
that everything is rosy in the plaza del pizza. There are preferences,
allegiances, and animosities, perhaps none more
pronounced than that between Chicago and New York. At the heart of the
geographically reinforced pie dispute is thickness. New York’s pizza is
thin like Neapolitan. And Chicago’s is
deep like Sicilian. Like most things pizza, it’s
hard to say who did it first. But Pizzeria Uno is
confidently implicated somehow in serving the first
Chicago style deep dish pizza in the 1940s. Chicago deep dish
is often thicker than even Sicilian pizza but
still round like a Neapolitan and more pie like with
a thick, hard crust. Jon Stewart famously
called it tomato soup in a bread bowl, which explains
why we haven’t removed a slice, because there would be
an avalanche of tomatoes to clean up. And we still have
a lot to shoot. Deep dish devotees,
anyway, counter that it’s more flavorful. You get more for your money. Or simply and inarguably,
I just like it more. Back off. While the deep versus thin
dispute may be notable, it is not pizza’s sole
conflict by any means. Rivalry is practically baked
in to pizza consumption. For one thing, pizza is
both customizable and meant to be shared. Everyone who’s ever ordered
one has argued about toppings. Anchovies over my dead body. Who likes mushrooms? Monsters. For the record, my
personal favorite toppings are pineapple and jalapeno. That is not a joke. Then of course, there’s the
question of where you even get the pizza. Even within geographic
allies, there’s disagreement. Do you order from Giordano’s
or Lou Malnati’s in Chicago or probably some other place
that I’ve never heard of, because I don’t live there. Where in New York
is the best slice? Di Fara, Anna Maria, famous
Ray’s, not famous Ray’s? And if it’s not a pizza place,
is it delivery, and if not delivery, DiGiorno? Even if you can
agree on toppings, you still have to acknowledge
that pizza is today and has been for a long
time heavily branded and aggressively commercialized. This is always my favorite part
of eating a DiGiorno pizza. Where preferences
can be articulated, they will be commercialized. You want pizza bagels,
bites, French bread pizza, pizza burgers, chips,
pretzels, Combos, or gum? We gotcha. How about pizza on things,
tattoos and nail art, sure. But what about pizza shirts,
hats, hoodies, sunglasses, socks, shoes, shorts, or
a pizza wrap for your car? We’ve gotcha. Come on down to pizza
town, where everything has pizza on it for some reason. Pizza may be an old world,
rustic Italian food. But it’s an American phenomenon. Up through the
early 20th century, pizza didn’t make it
far outside of Italy except to the immigrant
communities that brought it with them. But at the end of World War
Ii, GIs stationed in Italy return home to the United
States with a taste for pizza. And what’s more, as
Helstosky writes, during and after the war,
pizza constituted a kind of edible goodwill
ambassador, repairing fractured relationships between
the United States and Italy. Suddenly there was a diplomatic
and economic imperative to saving a service
member’s cheese lust. Pizza was sold as cheap,
fun, family friendly, marketed as an easy dinner
for the busy housewife. And biggened by the arguably
superficial multiculturalism of the ’60s and ’70s, pizza
went from ethnic food item to product, a process
greatly aided by the freezer. Pizza, now frozen, inert,
turns from an edible item to a sellable thing. In addition to
the freezer, there was also one other
piece of technology that helped pizzas
rise to ubiquity. And that was the
combustion engine. So there’s a joke that’s in
all of the food history books and pizza websites that I read. And it goes something like this. Did you know that
the first pizza delivery occurred in 1889? And so you’re imagining like
some pimply kid in a Domino wire wheel pulling up
to an Italian villa. What actually happened was
that King Umberto and Queen Margherita, after whom the
Margherita pizza is named, had the first ever
pizza delivery from Raffaele Esposito’s
Pizzeria di Pietro e Cosi, the man and
pizzeria considered the birthplace of modern pizza. I couldn’t find in
any of the records, though, how much they tipped. But it wasn’t until 1961
in the American Midwest at Dominic’s, later
Domino’s, that pizza forged its interminable
relationship with automobiles. Tom Monaghan bought the
struggling Ypsilanti, Michigan pizzeria Dominic’s
in 1960 for $500 down. Monaghan sold his stake in the
company in 1999 for $1 billion. Monaghan attributes much of
his and the company’s success to delivery. In a 2003 interview,
Monaghan explained that pizzerias offered
delivery until they were solvent after
which they stopped. Where other
pizzerias saw hassle, Monaghan saw dollar signs. And he was right but
only to a degree. The Domino’s story is a long
and a super interesting one even if you don’t
like their pizza, longer than we have
time to cover here. But I’ll put some links
in the doobly doo. Suffice it to say that the
delivery racket kind of turned into a death race. As local shops and other chains
added engines to their roster, Domino’s got edged
off the course. It was Domino’s, though,
that popularized the idea that pizza comes to you. Sure you can make it at home. But 99% of people don’t. I own a pizza stone. And I still order pizza from
the corner shop on Fridays because delivery pizza is,
in some way, more real pizza. And all the pageantry around it,
discussing, ordering, waiting, the arrival, opening
the box, which was another hugely important
technological development in the commercialization
of pizza, all of that, is also pizza, which
brings us just momentarily to leftover pizza, what
remains on the countertop, in the fridge, in
the box, on a plate, in a stack, covered
in tin foil, or left to the elements on
Saturday morning, delicious, delicious,
left over breakfast pizza. Don’t fool yourself. Though it was made by the same
people as that delivery pizza, left over pizza is a
different kind of pizza. It has undergone
a transformation. Left over pizza is
somehow more indulgent and maybe a little shameful
but no less awesome and maybe even more awesome. Leftover pizza is also
sometimes surprise pizza. Leftover pizza is
an artifact that remains, commemorating
DnD games or Netflix marathons, all nighters,
hackathons, and various get togethers. Pizza is so delicious and
so powerfully persuasive in its ability to convince you
to just have one more slice because of the presence of
naturally occurring glutamates in tomato and cheese. You’ve maybe heard glutamates
referred to as umami. And that is what makes slices
so neurophysiologically irresistible. But I might argue there’s
also a romance to pizza that makes it so enjoyable,
leftover pizza doubly so. It’s not only laden with
that savory flavor magic but with memories
of whatever pizza fueled shenanigans you
got up to the night before and perhaps need a
nice cold slice of pizza to help you recover from. Carol Helstosky
writes, quote, “today, advertisements for
Pizza Hut Poland promote Indian style pizza. Meanwhile, in India,
Pizza Hut’s website uses an Australian cartoon to
promote their specialty pizzas. It would seem that the
globalization of pizza has led to a greater
localization of the food as consumers make pizza
their own concoction. Yet, somehow pizza still
retains its Italian identity and, to some extent,
its American identity.” End quote. In Costa Rica, you may
find coconut and shrimp on pizza and in France, egg. German and Japanese
pizza is often topped with seafood,
tuna and octopus, specifically and respectively. This is what I mean when I say
beyond its central ingredients, pizza is historically
a culinary solution to a particular set
of economic, cultural, and dietary conundrums. It may be fair to say that
every culture has its pizza. But it’s also increasingly fair
to say that many cultures also just have pizza. Pizza is both local and
global, thanks in no small part to the long history of
commercial and cultural trade which sustained its economic
viability and ability to act as a status marker, a
communicator of preference, allegiance, and taste. And if you don’t like leftover
pineapple and jalapeno New York style pizza, you are
objectively wrong. Deep dish oatmeal pizza
with grapefruit topping! Let us know your thoughts about
pizza in the comments below. And I will respond
to some of them in next week’s comment
response video. Pizza. In this week’s comment
response video, we talk about your
thoughts regarding superhero destruction. But like last week, that
video will be out on Friday. I promise we’re not going to
make a habit of this, just these two weeks, most likely. We have a Facebook, an
IRC, and a subreddit, links in the doobly doo. The tweet of the week
comes from Solaru0311, who points us towards
an article that compares the way digital
assistants respond to certain requests for help and
assistance in dire situations. It is very interesting. One small bit of news,
PBS Digital Studios has been nominated for a
Webby in the best science and education network category. So that is very exciting. If you want to go vote for PBS
Digital Studios for that Webby, you can find a link
in the description. Voting is open until April 21st. You can only vote once. Use it wisely on
Digital Studios. And last but
certainly not least, this week’s episode would not
have been possible or good without the very hard work
of these anchovy lovers. MORGAN: I don’t know if any
of us do love anchovies. Shh, Morgan. [MORGAN LAUGHS]

Comments 100

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *