Sunday, May 19 2024
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Is ancient Greece pizza comparable to the italian one?

“The Italians? It was the ancient Greeks who discovered pizza” - is a typical claim often seen all over the Internet. In order to determine whether this statement is really valid, we should first describe what exactly was for the ancient Greeks what we now define as “pizza”. Were there other similar “recipes” coming from cultures far more different than the Greek one?

According to Carol Heltosky, history professor at the University of Denver and author of the book “Pizza: A Global History”, the first time in world history that evidence of a meal consisting of dough covered in various ingredients was in the working-class neighborhoods of Naples, in Italy, during the early 17th century.

It was a meal that workers usually bought from street vendors at a fairly low price, a dish for the poor citizens of southern Italy, which many well-to-do writers of the time described as “disgusting”. Pizzas back then consisted of cheese, tomato, anchovies, oil, quite similar to what we now define as pizza.

In 1889, in the now-united Italy, the French-raised Queen Margarita wanted to try a more complex dish, which differed from snails, bouillabaisse and other archetypes of the French gourmet cuisine. She asked Rafaele Esposito, owner of Pizzeria Brandi in Naples, to prepare a series of pizzas for her to try. One of the pizzas that arrived at the Queen's dining room had tomatoes, cheese and basil on it. This combination of fresh and fragrant ingredients drove her crazy! She made sure that the fame of this wonderful dish spread throughout the country. She finally gave her name to this dish and so it became “Pizza Margarita”.

The journalist and historian Vassilis Rafailidis used to say that the Mediterranean has been a “funnel of nations and cultures”, to emphasize how many different languages, cultures and nations have coexisted or even confronted each other through violent wars over the centuries in this land. In this funnel, therefore, it is not improbable at all that an idea had started from ancient Greek lands and later traveled to Italy of the Enlightenment century. In the 5th century BC, “plakous” was a dough, which was baked in an improvised oven with wood and contained goat cheese, garlic and olive oil.

These pastries were sold in the bakeries of the ancient Athenian market and were more like a gourmet version of what we now describe as cheese pie (tyropita).

In references from Plato's “Gorgias”, but also from the Athenaeus of Naucratis “Deipnosophistae”, it becomes clear that ancient Athens was full of bakeries, which produced bread, cheese bread, olive bread and a lot of delicious pies. Later, the ancient Greek bakers taught the Romans - who until then ate a preparation of half-baked millet porridge - the secrets of making bread and the story evolved into the well-known “Margarita”.