This week saw America celebrate one of its most important days: National Pizza Day.
All hail! Pizza, King of food! The divine union of dough, tomato, basil and cheese; bonded in searing heat, harmoniously married together into spiritual slices of chewy, creamy, tangy perfection.
Pizza’s story is one of rags to riches. Born out of poverty, what was once considered peasant food is now a multi-billion-dollar industry that has warmed humanity’s stomach and soul in all but the farthest reaches of the most remote places on earth.
The original, in the form that we know it today, was born in Naples in the late 18th century. Named after Queen Margherita, consort of Italy and attributed to Raffaele Esposito, the baker who took the colours of the Italian Tricolore and used them as inspiration for his tribute to the monarch of the recently unified Kingdom of Italy.
Like all the finest ideas, Esposito kept things simple, making best use of those 4 magnificent ingredients and with them creating something that the entire world would embrace and tailor to fit their own unique culinary identities.
We might know exactly, who, where and when the margherita was born, but pizza in general; flat bread adorned with other food items, or what we would now call toppings, reaches far back into the milky-eyed mists of time. It has been suggested that Persian soldiers used the heat from the sun to turn their shields into portable toaster trays and actually baked flatbreads on them before adding cheese and dates to create Esposito’s prototype, one that would sit gathering dust in basements across half the planet for more than 2 thousand years before one important discovery was made.
The tomato was unseen and unheard of in Europe prior to the 16th century, when explorers brought the fruit back from its native home in deepest darkest Mexico. Even then, once it had made its great journey across the Atlantic Ocean, the tomato was not accepted into the kitchen for another few hundred years. It was considered poisonous because it reacted with the pewter plates that the upper classes scoffed from, causing lead to seep into the food that they were eating.
This was no problem for those who could not afford such fancy table wares and were instead left with no choice but to eat from wooded slabs. The tomato soon became a staple within poor parts of Italy and was only a matter of time before it got together and made sweet culinary love with pizza’s other heroic ingredients.
The colonialism that brought the pizza to Italian plates was only the beginning of its world domination. Other great shifting social and economic revolutions still had a part to play in bringing that much-loved dinner time treat to your plate.
The mass immigration of Italian labour to the US at the end of the 19th century brought pizza and the tomatoes that defined it, back across the Atlantic in an attempt to bring a slice of home to those unfamiliar surroundings.
And it was there, in the USA that pizza would find a new spiritual homeland. In 1905, Lombardi’s, the first pizzeria in America, was opened. Today, in Manhattan alone, you will find over 2000 pizza shops with roughly 32000 in New York City. There is nowhere else on earth where a single slice of pizza is so renowned than in America’s financial powerhouse. The image of Wall Street bankers, yellow cab taxi drivers and other such New Yorker clichés speeding down sidewalks during lunch breaks, the folded slice in hand, is as synonymous with the Big Apple as the Empire State Building, Central Park and the Statue of Liberty. It is food on the go for the city that never sleeps and if you ask anyone who calls an Americano a cup o’ cawfee they’ll tell you that they do it best, better than the Neapolitans, better than anyone else in the world.
Ask a Chicagoan and they’ll tell you that pizza is a pie and that you need to eat it with a fork and knife because it’s so exquisitely messy. Ask a Sicilian and they’ll tell you the only bread you make pizza with is focaccia and that it should come with corners. Ask a Georgian and they’ll tell you that pizza is at its best when you crack an egg on top. Or if you want some terrible advice, ask a savage and they’ll tell you that pineapple deserves a place on your slice.
To get to the point where 100 acres of pizza are eaten every day in the US alone and where pizza has been moulded to fit the palate of almost every corner of the world we needed colonialism and immigration. We needed poverty and the ingenuity that comes with it. But all this alone wasn’t quite enough.
For pizza to earn such a warm, crusty, gooey place in all our hearts we still need a little ritualistic magic and some functional pragmatism. Those two fundamental elements of the globalisation of pizza were delivered to us via combustion engine and refrigeration.
What makes pizza so special for so many of us is not just the wonderful creation itself but also the means through which we invite it into our homes. Because, what could be better than food that comes to you? Part of the magic is deciding where to order from, what toppings to get, phoning up and then waiting. Sorting out the table whilst it makes its way to you and then when it does, there’s the great unveiling. Who gets to unlock the cardboard chest, be the first breathe in the steamy air and gaze at the riches within? Who gets to tear the first slice, be the first to stretch the cheese until is breaks before passing it on? No matter who you are, what money you have or where you’re from pizza should be about sharing, about passing the box to the next person. It’s about leftovers that need to be put in the fridge so that they can be eaten again, so that you can relieve the night before as you nurse the night before with the tincture of sobriety that is cold pizza.
In 1961 DomiNick’s was bought for 500 dollars. In 1999, the same company, now called Dominoes was sold for over 1 billion dollars. Whether you subscribe to that particular brand of pizza is not important because what the Dominoes’ story tells us is that we all love food that comes to us, gets there quickly and can be eaten in slices.
Pizza is now so iconic that there is an emoji for it, when words cannot possibly communicate the sheer magnificence of the slice. You can by pizza costumes, decorate your living room with pizza wallpaper and sleep under a pizza duvet. Pizza is everywhere and on everything and with that globalisation has come a localisation that gives Esposito’s legacy a new lease of life every time a new imagining occurs.
How about a pizza popular in the middle east that comes with cream cheese filled cone twists built into the crust? Or how does Canadian maple bacon with poutine take your fancy? Teriyaki shrimp? Deep fried pizza? Sweet pizza? Pizza covered in chip shop chips anyone?
We can even bulk up on pizzas at home. Fill our freezers with them so that when times are tough we don’t need to go without our favourite food.
Unlike the Roman Empire, Pizza took its time to conquer the world. It had to wait until every ingredient was in place. From the tomatoes, the cheese and the dough, to the fridges, the cars and the delivery person. Nothing was rushed, nothing was hasty and because of that Pizza will reign supreme as long as we have the means to keep those ingredients coming.
All hail, Pizza. King of food.
Pizza Prize takes you into the heart of a traditional pizzeria, in a quaint looking Italian town. There’s a fattish looking fella, with a moustache, chef’s hat and an appetite for creating fantastic looking pizzas. He is the game’s wild symbol and will kiss the heck out of his fingers in a “Bellisimo” kind of way whenever he contributes to a payline. The delivery boy is suitably dweeby and all the ingredients needed for a fine and tasty pizza can be found here.
Play the game for free here
I told you pizzas were emojis now, didn’t I? Well here it is in all its emoji glory, a slice of perfect pepperoni pizza, signalling our sole intent to eat pizza and allow nothing to get in our way.
Play the game for free here
Chase the Cheese
This game is an appreciation of one of pizza’s most important ingredients. OK, so it’s not the kind of cheese you normally get on pizza and is most likely being used in the metaphorical sense, cos that’s what we do when we play a slot game, isn’t it? But there are pots of yellow stuff that could be gold or cheese, so for the purpose of this slots space we’ll be calling it cheese.
Play the game for free here
Luxury Rome HD
Naples doesn’t have a slots game that I can find. So instead we move to the nation’s capital, where I’m pretty sure you can get yourself a decent pizza too. The game is set during the height of the mighty Roman Empire when pizza was a mere twinkle in the eye of our Italian friends. But the seeds were being sown, maybe not the tomato ones, but all the other ones, definitely sown.
Play the game for free here
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