The Journey and the Transformation of the Traditional Italian Pizza

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The traditional Pizza is the Marinara, or the seafarer’s dish, and consisted of garlic and olive only, and , seafood from the catch if it could be spared. It is still prepared that way, as we sampled to find out. Tomato be added, but no cheese. Soumya tells us about the metamorphosis of Pizza, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.

I had not developed a taste for the round shape in a square box with colourful toppings that get delivered at home within thirty minutes of your asking for it. After the romance of the first meeting back in the seventies at Nirulas, the charm died. I am not a fan of the cheesy, meat topped, pineapple flavoured, ketchup smothered calorie bomb that is arguably the ubiquitous world food, unless you consider the myriad thread like things that pass under various names beginning with Cho as a single food item.

I, therefore, was not enamoured with the idea of living on it for a week or so when we were visiting its birthplace.

But we discovered that Pizza in Italy is as much like the ones dished out by American chain stores, as the chop sues and chow miens in the roadside stalls have to the noodles available in Chinese majority countries.

Roman Pizza, I discovered is a tandoori roti.

Pineapples on pizzas are an abomination.

Tomato was added to pizzas after Columbus discovered them in America.

The Pizza was a poor man’s food.

Traditional toppings are garlic and olive, the commonest produce, much like the poor in the north and west India have roti with chili and onion. Tomato got added in the 16th century, but as sun-dried tomato and sometimes puree, never as ketchup.

Pizza is the local food of Naples, and the Neapolitan pizza is considered the best.

The traditional Pizza is the Marinara, or the seafarer’s dish, and consisted of garlic and olive only, and sometimes, seafood from the catch if it could be spared. It is still prepared that way, as we sampled to find out. Tomato may be added, but no cheese.

After the unification of Italy, the Empress Margaret, who had heard of the Pizza and never tasted it, wanted to, as Empresses are wont to do. The poor Pizzerias of Naples could not dissuade her saying that it is rude simple food unfit for consumption, and decided to enrich it with cheese. Then someone had the idea, and the Margarita was invented, in honour of the queen of the same name, with tomato cheese and olive, the colours of the new nation Italy’s flag. That continues to be the classic Margarita and is purely vegetarian.

This made Pizza the most popular dish, and it spread to other regions of the newly formed nation, and cheese became a luxury addition. As prosperity came in, cheese became a regular feature.

With the Second World War came the Americans, and they introduced pork to the pizza. The pizza turned nonveg. Salami sausages and their ilk dominated the toppings. And they were there to stay.

When the Americans returned, they took the pizza with them, transformed it beyond recognition as they are wont to do, made it the national food of the US of A, and by logical progression with the American cultural imperialism, a world food, eaten by Esquimos and Hottentots and everyone in between, even the Chinese and Japanese.

Thus, it gets delivered to your door by harassed young men in ridiculous Italian costumes within 30 minutes of your wishing for it.

©Soumya Mukherjee

Photos from the Internet

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Soumya Mukherjee

Soumya Mukherjee

Soumya Mukherjee is an alumnus of St Stephens College and Delhi School of Economics. He earns his daily bread by for a PSU Insurance company, and lectures for peanuts. His other passions, , friends, films, travel, food, trekking, wildlife, music, theater, and occasionally, writing. He has been published in many national newspapers of repute. He has published his first novel, Memories, a novella, hopefully, the first of his many books. He blogs as well.
Soumya Mukherjee
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