Some words have a magical property – we know exactly what we are talking about when we hear them. This is especially true of national cuisines, be it borsch or soup, pizza or sushi, kebabs or lard. Nearly all of these items are considered a symbol of national cuisine, although this is not entirely true. What dish instead of pizza should be rightly regarded as Italian?
Pizza is not part of a national Italian cuisine. Pizza is an emblem of international, mostly American, fast food. Fast-food chains have borrowed from national cuisines anything that can be served piping hot. Sometimes borrowings are manifested in the title only. For example, hamburger in the original language does not sound just like a hamburger sandwich, but as a resident of the port city in Germany. Of course, such “delicacies” were cooked anywhere, not just in old Europe.
Pizza, about which many people in the world have a very definite idea, is indeed an Italian invention. But should we consider truly national a dish invented in the late 19th century? Here is how it is described by an excellent translator of the Italian language Elena Kostyukovich in her best-selling book “Food. Italian happiness.” In 1889, Don Raffaele Esposito, the owner of the famous pizzeria “Brandi” in Naples, offered his customers a patriotic tricolor (pizza with tomatoes, white “mozzarella” and green basil) in honor of the queen of Italy, Margherita of Savoy. The dish was praised by the Queen herself, and today this pizza is called “Margherita”. In the early twentieth century, pizza was brought by immigrants to the U.S., and turned into a phenomenon not so much of the Italian but the American culture and thus became an integral part of the global food market
The Italian word pizza comes from a Greek plax (flat) or from the Latin verb pinsere (to knead). While the etymology of the word is not entirely clear, the method of preparation of such food, the so-called edible plate, was known even in ancient Rome. At the other end of the world the Indians of pre-Columbian America ate round cakes that the Spanish conquistadors later called tortilla.
The Arabs cooked their pita bread, people from the Caucasus – lavash. The idea to place food on a semblance of a plate that could be eaten after a meal was not invented by the Italians and, of course, not their ancestors. This idea was in the air. What was placed on top was based only on the desire and taste of the cook. Famous for their singing Neapolitan fishermen, for example, poured snail soup into gutted bread crust. While this could not be called a classic pizza, it is the same idea.
Italian roots of pizza are undeniable. Moreover, the country of Italy was formed only 20 years before the invention of pizza. Imagine for a moment that vodka invented by the Russians was invented in the days of the Liberator Tsar Alexander the Second. At best, the brand would have departed to the Poles who also claimed it if it has not been for a record found in the Russian archives where the word “vodka” was used in Muscovy earlier than by the western Slavs. All old national dishes were invented in the old days, when there were no single countries on the map in the modern sense.
The first Italian pizzeria opened in New York in 1905. Elena Kostyukovich wrote that beyond two or three southern regions of Italy, pizza was not known anywhere. Pizza’s true fame in Italy came just after the Second World War. Pizza arrived in its native Naples on the ships of allied soldiers from the United States. Its popularity was contributed by Italy’s most fashionable Italian-Americans Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. It is worth noting that western action movies directed by Italian directors were called Spaghetti Westerns, but not pizza-westerns.
In most Italian homes pizza has become a symbol of the collective feast, while pastasciutta was the center of a family holiday. In the words of a connoisseur of Italian life Elena Kostyukovich, for the Italians now pasta or pizza is a choice between domestic and external, that is, between a leisurely family meal (keywords: family, mother – famiglia, mamma) and social leisure (keyword: friends- compagni , amici). In other words, pasta is home, while pizza is a communal eatery. Pastashyutta is opposed to pizza for a reason. A simple conclusion is that the symbol of Italian cuisine should be considered simple pasta, and not the hyped pizza.
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