Despite its history in Europe and the Mediterranean, many people acknowledge pizza as one of America’s signature cuisine items. Americans have turned crispy Italian flatbread pizzas into deep dish, pan and stuffed crust pies. You can find many of these pizza varieties and more from the thousands of restaurants on Restaurant.com. But who can really claim pizza as their country’s own?
This week’s installment of He Said, She Said on The Dish collects the opinions of staff contributor Robert Rodriguez and Restaurant.com’s Social Media Manager Meg Bakken, two people who stand on opposite sides of the pizza identity debate.
By the numbers, there is approximately one pizzeria for every 2436 Italians in Italy compared to one pizzeria for every 4484 Americans in the United States. Despite the prevalence of pizza in Italy, however, many pizzaioli jobs that were owned by homegrown Italians have been passed onto to immigrant workers because of their demanding hours and modest pay. If Italians themselves are starting to abandon the service of their national food pride, how can we just let them own the great dish of pizza as a nation?
Besides, designating pizza as Italian or American really just depends on what pizza you consume most of the time. If you’re into specialty pizzas and love adding on the toppings, chances are you’ll side with pizza as American (“true” Italian pizza has fewer, designated toppings). For instance, pizza napoletana has a designated recipe under the protection of the E.U. that calls for specified dough ingredients and measurements of diameter and rim height. Don’t expect much more than tomato and mozzarella when ordering this Italian concoction. When talking about Italian pizza, there’s simply no place for experimentation. Such rigidness in food ordering is irrelevant in the food industry today and a very much a construct of the past. You simply won’t find a pan, New York Style or deep dish variety of pizza in Italy, and without those options, what do you have left but a large round cracker and some vegetables and spices?
Before the 1950’s and the arrival of Pizza Hut, the ‘pizza’ found a home in both Italy and America. Where Italians lacked in experimentation with toppings, they more than made up for in refined flavors, fresh ingredients, and spice. The first pizza, developed in Naples, required thin, wood-fire oven-cooked slabs of dough, lightly layered with olive oil and sauce. Traces of fresh mozzarella and basil sealed the deal and required nothing more to stimulate the stomach. It has become so much more than a favorite dish in Italy; it’s become a cultural staple.
Back in America, Italian Immigrants inspired kitchens across the country and the fusion of Italian-American cuisine began. The first ‘Americanized’ pizza spawned in the boroughs of New York, within the walls of Little Italy, and quickly expanded across the country. Fast forward 63 years and the birth of NEW varieties of pizza have been born in what some would call a national craze. While still paying homage to the original, Italian style pizza, American versions of this popular dish now include their own cultural influences including meat, various cheeses, and vegetables. “Is pizza Italian or American?”, is no longer the appropriate question. Rather, “Which pizza do you prefer?”, asks the real question.
As a pizza lover, I would argue that both American and Italian varieties can and will withstand the test of time. While neither of these varieties NEEDS a home, they have certainly found one, not just in America or Italy but across the globe. It’s officially become an International favorite but we can all agree, while Americans helped catapult it into stardom, it’s Italian roots that started the trend.
What country does pizza really belong to? Share your opinions with us in the comments section below.