A slice of history: pizza parlance through the ages

In much the same way as curry, coffee, and…er…Cava, another foreign foodie export has long had a place in the hearts of us Brits. Guessed what it is yet? Hold your horses, ladies; it isn’t celeb chef Gino D’Acampo – but it is another Italian favourite.

That’s right; it’s pizza – and despite those Italian origins, it’s (almost) as synonymous with British culture as politely munching your way through a disappointing meal before informing the waiting staff it was ‘delicious’.

When you think about it, pizza’s essentially a much posher version of a distinctively more British snack: cheese on toast. It’s probably why we love it; we all enjoy a bit of cheddar – it’s the ultimate comfort food, after all. But when melted and paired with all manner of mouth-wateringly tasty toppings, there’s no denying that it’s absolute food heaven.

Of course, there’s a less ‘British’ way to make pizza – and it involves ‘real’ Italian cheese (mozzarella, of course), olive oil over butter and great quality ingredients from base to top.

We digress…

While we’d quite happily slip into a full-on, frothing-at-the-mouth food coma at the mere thought of a cheese and pepperoni-topped bread base, we must (or at least, try to) remember why we put fingers to keyboard to type this blog. The reason is this: we can all remember our first trip to the local pizzeria but our love affair with the Italian teatime treat goes back much further than that – as does some of the language you’ll still hear in pizza restaurants today.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word pizza itself doesn’t originate from Naples, though this is where it was popularized, but from the Abruzzo region and its vicinity. And guess what else? The Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, recently revealed that the oldest reference to the word in Italian was in 997 AD.

When it comes to pizza-related language, second only to the word of the foodstuff itself is margherita – arguably one of the most-requested of all the topping combinations out there. It’s a Neapolitan word, named in honour of the Queen of Italy during her visit to Naples in 1889. Her name was Margherita of Savoy and we bet the lady in question was thrilled to be likened to a pizza.

Shall we compare thee to a summer’s day? “No, but I’d love to be named after a cheese and tomato-topped main course,” Margherita was heard to say. Probably. Oh, well…not at all. We jest, of course… the name was actually chosen as the tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil echoed the red, white, and green of the Italian flag.

But now we reckon you’re at least a little bit intrigued about other ways in which pizza-related language has seeped into everyday parlance.

While there’s no doubt that pizza’s Italian, you could be forgiven for thinking that – like coffee – it’s another ‘American thing’. Arriving in the US as an immigrant food, the mealtime classic was often once referred to as a ‘pizza pie’. And yes, we’re humming that song now too…

Today, however, it’s known as plain old ‘pizza’ – indeed, pizza pie is rather tautologous, as pizza is literally ‘pie’ in Italian. Pizza is said to come originally from the Latin word pinsa, which simply means ‘flatbread’. If that’s whet your appetite, here are a few more foodie facts you might not know…

Neapolitan Pizza Must be Consumed Where it is Baked – Those Italians really are particular, aren’t they? But there’s a method behind their meat and cheese-flavoured madness. That said, according to the LifeinItaly.com site, Neapolitan-style pizza isn’t special simply because of its relevance in history. It’s also due to this little-known fact: in 2010 it was granted an STG qualification by the EU. This means the Neapolitan (meaning ‘relating to Naples’) pizza is a specialita tradizionale garantita (guaranteed traditional speciality) and its ingredients are regulated by law. So, everything from the size and shape of the dough to where the pizza is consumed has to be just-so – who knew?!

A Written Description of Pizza Goes as Far Back as 1830 – Someone on the Stack Exchange site sheds a little light on the ‘pizza pie’ thing, saying:  “A description of pizza in Naples around 1830 is given by the French writer and food expert Alexandre Dumas in his work Le Corricolo, Chapter VIII. He writes that pizza was the only food of the humble people in Naples during winter and that “in Naples pizza is flavoured with oil ….”

English Words of Italian Origin Don’t Stop at ‘Pizza’ – Most of these you’ll know already, but did you know that – alongside pizza – these words come via Italy: broccoli, barista, coffee, macaroni, scampi, and artichoke. Mind very much blown.

Now, I don’t know about you but the frozen section of the supermarket and its oh-so-tempting boxed pizzas is calling. Who am I kidding?! I’m grabbing my coat and I’m going out for a proper one! See you on the flip-side!

Lauren Holden October 27 2016

Lauren Holden is a Lancashire-born, Yorkshire-based freelance copywriter and journalist in her early 30s. Her website is www.laurenholden.co.uk.

Categories: Other languages
Tags: Italianpizzapizza piepopular
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