The Neapolitans didn’t cook up the idea of pizza out of air, even if their crusts are sometimes so light they give that impression. Flat breads date back to Neolithic times. For millennia civilizations throughout the Mediterranean have developed their own versions. The ancient Greeks may have brought plakous, their flat and round cheese pie, to southern Italy when they colonized the region’s coastal areas between the eighth and fifth centuries bce. Pita (or pitta), which means “pie” in modern Greek and refers to a leavened flatbread, might be a precursor to “pizza” the word and “pizza” the food. In Calabria, pitta refers to various breads, cakes, and pies, including pitta pizzulata, a deep-dish tomato pie.
In the Mediterranean Basin the notion of a flat yeast bread covered with baked-in toppings is hardly unique to Italy. Across the French-Italian border Nice has pissaladière, garnished with caramelized onions, anchovies, olives, and garlic. Catalonia adorns its coca with the likes of red bell pepper, olives, tuna, sardines, and onions. The Turkish version of lahmacun, from the Arabic for “meat and bread,” is slathered with a lamb and tomato mixture and is often characterized as Turkish pizza.
But the story of pizza, as understood in this guide—and by much of the modern world—begins either in the sixteenth century, when the term was introduced in Naples, the eighteenth century, when Neapolitans tried it with tomato, or the nineteenth century, when a Neapolitan discovered the perfect pizza pairing of tomato and mozzarella.
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