History of Pizza


Nov 10
history of roman flatbread

Where Did Pizza Originate?

Part 1: Focaccia, Grandfather of Pizza
Part 2: How Focaccia Became Pizza
Part 3: Modern Day Pizza Milestones
Part 4: Recipes
Part 5: Focaccia Vs Breadsticks


he pizza that we all know and love today comes from humble beginnings. Countries love to argue about the origins of the much-loved dish, but the truth is that the idea for pizza has been in development for hundreds or maybe even thousands
of years. It started off with flatbread (A.K.A. Pisna or Focaccia) dishes that only slightly resembled the pizza most of us enjoy today, but it evolved over the years to the many different varieties available now.

Focaccia Topped Dishes Have Been Common Since Ancient Times

Looking all the way back to the Neolithic times’ people have been cooking flatbread dishes coated with oils and toppings in a similar fashion to modern-day pizza, focaccia, and other popular meals.

Most historians agree that the Ancient Romans, the Ancient Greeks and the Egyptians all enjoyed dishes that looked like pizza. Roman pisna, is basically pizza. It was a flatbread type of food that was also documented as being a type of food that was offered to the gods.  The word pisna literally means to stretch or squeeze.

history of roman flatbread

Flatbread was a common base for food in these times, especially for the poor that couldn’t afford plates to eat on. That’s why for so long, flatbread meals were looked down on by many people and thought of as food for the lower-class citizens.

There are even signs of flatbread meals and what look like early pizzerias at the ruins at Pompeii. That’s why it almost seems absurd to say pizza was invented in Italy, though it was standardized there and given the name that we all call it by today.

Today, a flat piece of bread served with olive oil and various spices is the most specific dish that can describe Italy . It has a paper-thin edge , which slightly crunches when eating.

Focaccia bread is the Godfather of pizza

It’s hard to look as focaccia bread and compare it to pizza, but obviously, the similarities are there. And besides that, it can have the distinct honor of being called the Godfather of pizza in many ways.

The true origins of focaccia bread date back to at least the second century. It was because of the Greek word that even the name focaccia derived from focus meaning ‘cooked on fire’. It was enjoyed by the Greeks, Carthaginians, and Phoenicians and was primarily made with crushed grains, yeast, water, oil, and salt. It was so popular that it quickly spread through Italy and was a popular local favorite in cities including Liguria and Genova.

By the 7th century AD, the migration of many people started to sweep across Italy. It was the Lombards that began to produce baked goods including focaccia which were showing a new variant of their creation. This new variant of focaccia was sometimes called bizzo or Pizzo and has toppings a bit like pizza. Technically it was still focaccia but had been branded a new name that was still very regional to Italy.

This continued until 1000AD when the name began to evolve further. A manuscript 1195AD that documented the types of baked goods within the Abruzo and Molise regions cited this significant change. In the south-center of these regions, it was noted that pizis and pissas were in fact, a variant of bizzo and Pizzo. Yet, these were still a direct recipe variant of the focaccia bread. It wasn’t until 1535 that Naples has the most significant mention of a name change.

Benedetto di Falco wrote in his book ‘The Description of Ancient Places in Europe’ describing that ‘Focaccia in Neopolitan is called Pizza’. However, this did not affect the popularity of focaccia, as pizza was highly isolated to this region.

Let’s take a closer look at what technically makes focaccia bread a relative of pizza.

Basic Ingredients

Both pizza dough and focaccia bread use the same ingredients including flour, water, salt, oil, and yeast. Pizza dough often contains less yeast, which is why the crust turns out thinner. Both recipes are amazingly similar since both pizza and focaccia use one packet of yeast. Pizza recipes add an additional two cups of flour to lower the rising yeast effect. Focaccia bread adds more olive oil that adds flavor to the dough while it rises.

It’s not hard to see how the two recipes are considered so identical except for a key ingredient that defines their flavor.

The Olive Oil

You may not know this but the traditional thin crust pizza is swimming in olive oil. After the dough has been sitting in an oiled-coated bowl for at least 4-5 hours (a time-honored tradition) then it’s prepared. Most of the air is pressed out of the dough and it’s placed onto an oiled pan or pizza sheet. After that, the edges of the dough are coated with olive oil before it gets baked.

Because the dough is much thinner, the oil causes the crust to become crispier as it cooks in the oven. Thicker and fluffier focaccia bread dough that has nearly the same amount of olive oil will be softer with a bit of chew. The original Italian recipes show that the preparation between the two is their only difference. Before the air is pushed out of the pizza dough, it’s more-or-less the same exact dough.

How did focaccia became pizza

One theory suggests that pizza was an answer to feed the poor since it could be produced cheaply in the 1700s. Naples was soon one of the most popular cities in Europe and saw thousands from the countryside flocking to this big city for work. While it had the same appeal as flatbread, it had a flavored taste similar to focaccia with bits of garlic and onion. At least two or more pizzas could be made from the same about focaccia bread dough.

Essentially it was cost-effective but made to look like it was worth buying. This is why pizza toppings made this flattened version of focaccia easy to sell. As the city of Naples reached peak population levels, the lack of money to afford focaccia bread was hardly in demand. And since most of the commerce was now being done on city streets instead of shops, it was the most popular way to feed the poorest people on-the-go.

The invention of pizza was essentially the very first fast-food that could feed the Lazzaroni (porters, light laborers, and deliverymen). This vendor-based street food was ironically sold by the slice according to what the Lazzaroni could afford. This pizza was considered at that point, a sewer food that fed migrants and poor people. It wasn’t until 1889 that pizza was first experienced by the King and Queen that the local specialty was finally elevated.

Just like California Pizza Kitchen introduced a cuisine-level pizza in 1985, pizza in America has always been regarded as cheap fast food.

Modern Day Pizza Milestones

1700s: A century of dramatic change

The 1700s began to see another increased flow of immigrants across Italy. Naples began to emerge as a growing empire under the Bourbon Kings and the steady flow of trade in the Naples ports. It continually saw more and more growth throughout this century through the shipping trades. In 1700, the population has reached 200,000 and nearly doubled by 1748! Not only was the city expanding with peasants from the countryside, but many new migrants were also steadily flowing in to find work.

With such an overflow in population, Naples could not control their urban city by any means. Many of those who lived there fell into poverty and struggled to find work of any kind. These poor people soon began to have a ragged appearance and were often called the Lazarus. In Italian, these were known as the Lazzaroni and came to represent a swelling population of 50,000 at that time. It is thought that the local variant of Pizza was the cheapest source of food for these poor people.

Focaccia bread was still enjoyed by the wealthier citizens at that time but was considered too expensive for the poor. Pizza on the other hand was sold by vendors on the street who would slice-off’ pieces, determined by what a poor person has in their pocket. This perhaps gives a whole new meaning to pizza by the slice. It was easy to eat since many of the poor were on-the-go and in search of work. Many of these poor people held simple day labor jobs for very minimal money.

The First Official Pizza

Foods resembling pizza had been around for hundreds of years already, but it was never known as pizza, at least not until the 1600s. It was during that period that bakers in Naples Italy began creating what they dubbed “pizza”. This dish was made up of a yeasty flour dough, lard, cheese, and olive oil along with herbs and the newly obtained tomatoes. They were also often topped with garlic, anchovies, and other toppings for flavor. Tomatoes didn’t arrive in Europe until 1522 when they were returned from an expedition to Peru. Around the late 1800s pizza explode from Naples and became widespread in Europe.

Pizza was originally consumed by the poor throughout Naples, Italy, especially around the bay, where the residents often lived in homes as small as a single room or even outdoors entirely. Pizza was favored by the city’s poor because it was quick to eat, and could be consumed while on the go without a plate. It’s pretty similar to why many of the poor in Ancient Greek and other ancient societies consumed their meals on top of a flatbread base. The poor eating pizza on the go was thought of as distasteful and it made many Italians look down on pizza, and it rose in popularity in other countries before it ever became a cherished dish in Italy as it is today.

1800s: The popularity of street foods

The invention of this modified focaccia was not always well received by several who had visited Naples. Especially noted in 1831, when Samuel Morse (the inventor of the Telegraph) while visiting Italy; had encountered pizza for the first time. He was sickened by the smell and toppings and famously compared it to sewer bread. Whereas the famous writer Alexandre Dumas proclaimed that one slice made for a good breakfast costing only 2 Liard.

And as the years passed it increasingly became the staple of street food among the locals of Naples. Long before the famous Margherita pizza version was approved in 1889, there was already a popular recipe. In 1858, it was reported in the Customs and Traditions of Naples report, that a pizza with tomato sauce, cheese, and basil was called the Neopolitan. Apparently, it was a local classic that was renamed for the sake of reunification.

illustration of street vendor

Pizza peddler of the 19th century. Image credit to HistoryToday.com

Apparently King Umberto I and Queen Margherita had become sick of French cuisine and ordered some traditional pizza while on a visit through Naples. They tried three pizza variations but only the recipe with cheese, tomato sauce, and basil was approved by the Queen. After that, it seems that pizza was now officially approved and soon lost its’ peasant food status.

Less than a decade later, poor Italian immigrants from Naples headed for New York City for a better life. At that time, they brought with them a cheap street food that later became an American sensation. To this day, NYC is once of the most iconic places where pizza by the slice is still sold thru a walk-up window.

The “Margherita” Pizza

Pizza Margherita, one of the most popular types of pizza available today in Italy, got its original start in Naples while the Italian king and queen (King Umberto I and Queen Margherita) were visiting in 1889. It’s rumored that the queen who was bored of dining on French cuisine requested a local Pizzeria – Pizzeria Brandi – to make a mixed variety of pizzas to try for something different. The Queen loved a pizza variation topped with red tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and basil, and it was dubbed Pizza Margherita from then on in her honor. Nobody is sure if it’s a coincidence or not that Pizza Margherita features the Italian colors with its red sauce, white cheese, and green basil toppings.

There’s no way to know when or where the famous dish was first made, but the experience with Queen Margherita is certainly what led to it becoming so popular, and it was the real starting point for Pizza Margherita to spread and become as loved as it is today.

Spreading Overseas to the U.S.

It wasn’t until the end of the 1800s when pizza would expand out from Europe and travel overseas to the United States. Pizza quickly became a common staple in the US, particularly in locations like New York City as Italians immigrated into the country and brought their cooking technique, their recipes, and they’re hunger for pizza.

Mama’s Too in Manhattan

Nothing like NYC style pizza while in Manhattan.

The very first American pizza shop was opened in 1905, and it was called G. Lombardi’s after Gennaro Lombardi. That pizza shop was opened in a growing Italian-American neighborhood, and the shop is still in operation in New York City today.

old school pizza shop in nyc

Lombardi’s Gennaro Pizza Then & Now

The location of the shop is changed, but the owners are still using the original oven to craft the pizzas they serve to customers. Before the shop opened its doors pizza was made at home in NYC or sold by unlicensed vendors.

After being introduced to Americans on the East Coast, pizza quickly spread to major cities such as Chicago, Boston, Washington DC, and many others and the wide range of varieties that we’re familiar with today were developed.

Even though pizza was developed around the world and standardized in Italy, many historians credit the United States for making pizza popular. It was popular in certain regions throughout Europe, but it gained much greater popularity after it became a deeply ingrained part of American culture.

Pizza, like Rock and Roll was picked up by other countries because Americans were eating so much of it. Major chains like Dominos and Pizza Hut were developed in the US and spread to dozens of countries around the world.

The history of pizza is a fascinating one, but it’s still nearly impossible to tell just where the dish was created. Many cultures around the world played a part in the development and enhancement of the food, and that’s part of what makes it so special. Pizza is one of the most highly consumed foods in the US, and it’s also one of the most frozen foods.

Recipes: Traditional & Modern

The original focaccia bread recipe

It might sound harder to believe that there is a recipe that follows the exact method for making focaccia. Take a look at any pizza dough recipe and it will look very familiar. This recipe dates back to a turn-of-the-century focaccia recipe in Genova.


ingredients for focaccia bread

  • 2 lbs flour
  • 1oz salt
  • 16oz water
  • 10 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • oz malt extract
  • 2oz brewers yeast


Into a large bowl pour your cool water and add the yeast and malt. You will only use 12oz of water for this part. Save the remaining water for later. After this, you can add the 2 lbs of flour until you have a thick dough-like paste. Let it rest for 15 minutes and then remove it from the bowl. Place your dough onto a table and roll it out so it’s flat and can fit into a cooking tray. This cooking tray must be pre-greased with olive oil.

This dough is allowed to rise again for at least 15 minutes. You then use your fingers to poke small holes all over the surface making little ‘moon’ craters everywhere. At this point, you can add flaky sea salt to the surface. This is again let to rise again for an hour until the very last step. Be sure the dough is placed in a nice warm area. After this, you mix the remaining 4 ounces of water and mix this with the olive oil as much as possible.

Adding a bit of flour will help the water and oil mix together easier. This should be poured directly over the dough mixture and into all the little craters. This oil and water mixture will soak in very quickly.

Baking info:

Bake for 6 minutes in an oven that’s preheated at 550F. Most ovens don’t get that hot so you might have to go to the highest setting or buy a pizza stone or even your own outdoor oven, see our top picks here. Let cool for 10 minutes, slice and serve.

Optionally you can add extra toppings when you add your salt including rosemary, tomatoes, or white onion slices.

How to make focaccia bread even better?

This type of bread already has great appeal because of the flavors involved. The olive oil and overall texture make them nearly a meal in itself. They can be made to taste better by adding select toppings that are usually pushed into the dough before it’s baked. These can include ripe cherry tomatoes, herbs and spices, and garlic and onion. It’s not uncommon that some people will add shredded cheese on top.

These days, the original recipe has included items that make focaccia bread so similar to pizza, that it might as well be modified pizza bread. Purists of the original Italian recipe like to stick to the basics that make the flavor a classic Mediterranean flavor.

Pizza-inspired focaccia recipe

Are you looking to make focaccia bread that has a great pizza flavor? Some ideas aren’t just a Californian concept since creativity can happen in Phoenix, AZ too. The concept of focaccia pizza originated at the Pizzaria Bianco http://www.pizzeriabianco.com/eat-together

With a concept that combines the rich and complex flavor of focaccia and pizza, you can try this award-winning recipe too.


Ingredients for Pizza inspired focaccia recipe

  • cup (plus 2 tablespoons) warm water (110-115F)
  • 1 teaspoon instant or fresh yeast
  • 1 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoons flakey sea salt
  • cup olive oil (can be extra-virgin oil if you like)


Toppings for Pizza inspired focaccia recipe (1)

  • 1 sealed tin (15oz) crushed tomatoes (can be your favorite brand)
  • 1 glove of garlic (finely minced)
  • Salt and pepper (fresh ground pepper and flakey seas salt for taste)
  • 4oz fresh mozzarella cheese (sliced)
  • Fresh basil leaves (as you like)
  • Any other toppings (pepperoni, mushrooms, onions)

Dough Directions:

Add into a large mixing bowl your water, yeast, sugar, and about half of the flour. Start to mix the contents with a wooden spoon until it becomes sticky. You can then add the rest of the flour and your salt and the olive oil. Keep mixing this until the dough is getting thick enough. If you need to add more flour, a couple more tablespoons are good if it looks too sticky.

Next, you can take the dough out and knead it together by hand to mix the contents more thoroughly. After that, you roll the entire dough into a ball and transfer it to a medium-sized bowl that is coated with olive oil. Place it in a warm area for an hour so it can rise to be at least double its’ size.

Use a medium cooking pan (9 x 13 brownies tray sized) and give the inside a wipe with some olive oil. Now you can transfer the dough to the inside of the tray. It will be pliable enough to slowly push the dough all the way to the edges. When that’s done you again wait for the double rise. This time you need to cover the dough with a towel and let sit in a warm area again. After that, you can preheat your oven to 425F and begin prepping your dough.

Make your pizza sauce by mixing the can of crushed tomatoes with minced garlic and add salt and pepper in a small bowl. Add a layer of olive oil pained on top of your dough before adding the pizza sauce. After that, you can add your mozzarella cheese, and other pizza toppings and top it off with the basil leaves. You can also add salt and pepper as you like.

Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the top of the cheese is golden brown. Then take it out and let cool for 5 minutes. Slice and serve for the best focaccia pizza you’ve ever tasted!

What’s the difference between focaccia and pizza breadsticks?

difocaccia breadsticks vs pizza breadsticks

Focaccia never lost the appeal in upper-class restaurants and often served focaccia sticks with fancy meals. Otherwise known as breadsticks, clever restaurant owners could serve smaller portions of dinner knowing hungry customers filled-up on breadsticks. If you’ve ever been to a fancy restaurant, you’ll notice they always put-out the breadsticks before you eat anything.

Unlike the burger wars of the early 80s, the late 80s had a similar war among pizza giants such as Pizza Hut, Round Table Pizza, Domino’s, and Shakey’s pizza. Pizza Hut was among the first to introduce pizza breadsticks that helped them gain a winning point. sadly every other pizza place coped the idea and pizza breadsticks became a menu stable. There’s very little difference between pizza breadsticks and focaccia bread.

Except for how these are made since some include cheese stuffing inside. It’s not hard to imagine that a fast-food pizza company is using pizza dough to make focaccia breadsticks…

pizza oven thermometer