Crossword: from food for the poor of Naples to the world’s favorite dish: the humble pizza

Pizza is so universally loved that it was a “pandemic staple” in 2020, according to US news site The New York Times. They’re easy to eat, affordable, and the perfect size for entire families. But how did they become?

Flatbreads with fillings have long been eaten around the world – by the ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks. But the birthplace of modern pizza is in the Campania region of southwestern Italy, where the city of Naples is located.

In the 1700s, Naples was a prosperous waterfront city, known for its crowds of poor workers – the lazzaroni. These Neapolitan residents mainly worked outdoors and often lived in houses barely larger than one room. They therefore needed inexpensive food that could be eaten quickly, even on the go.

And so, pizza was born. Street vendors and informal restaurants began offering this fare, which had affordable toppings and could be consumed anytime. It was despised by the well-to-do, but we actually have working-class Naples to thank for the tasty toppings that adorn our pizzas today – from tomatoes and cheese to anchovies and garlic.

However, the pizza’s reputation changed when King Umberto I and Queen Margherita visited Naples in 1889.

The story goes that the two travelers had grown bored of their diet of French haute cuisine and so requested an assortment of pizzas from Pizzeria Brandi in town. The variety the queen liked the most was called pizza mozzarella – a pie made with soft cottage cheese, red tomatoes and green basil. She may even have liked it because it sported the colors of the Italian flag! From then on, this particular pizza combination was named Margherita pizza.

The pizza remained little known beyond Italy until the 1940s, when Italian immigrants to the United States replicated their delicious dishes in New York and other American cities. Soon the flavors and aromas of the pizza captivated non-Italians, and the rest, as they say, is history!