In June of 1889, Queen Margherita of Italy visited the southern reaches of her realm. After arriving in Naples, she requested to eat a food enjoyed by her country’s commoners. When summoned, pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito prepared his queen three different pies, one topped with tomato, cheese and basil, mirroring the colors of the Italian flag. She loved that pizza so much that a royal representative sent a letter to Pizzeria Brandi that hangs on its wall to this day. Esposito named the pie Margherita in the queen’s honor, and, more importantly, the modern pizza was born.
Or was it?
That origin story has persisted through pizza’s expansion beyond Italy’s borders and rise in popularity around the globe during the late 20th century. “The hamburger is the quintessential American fast food, but pizza is the quintessential global fast food,” says Carol Helstosky, an associate professor of history at the University of Denver and author of Pizza: A Global History. “There’s a version of pizza just about everywhere.”
But with pizza’s ubiquity comes half-truths, fables and hard-nosed opinions. From its history (were pizza-hungry GI’s responsible for its America popularity post-WWII?), to how make it (San Marzano tomatoes?), to the proper way to eat it (knife and fork allowed?), there are countless stories and customs surrounding pizza. Any of which can get people heated.
“With other types of food, people are willing to break with their conceptions and preconceived ideas and be really into challenging them,” says Steve Samson, chef-owner of Rossoblu and Sotto, home of one of L.A.’s best pizzas. “But with pizza, everyone has their own idea of what it should be like.”
With ample misinformation out there, we wanted to separate truth from tall tale about the world’s favorite flatbread. Here, we called upon Helstosky, Samson, pizza scholar Scott Wiener, and The Sporkful’s Dan Pashman to debunk eight prevailing pizza myths.