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Ten Seriously Scrumptious Stories about Pizza
Ah, pizza. Few foods bring as much nearly universal love as pizza. Dough, cheese, and tomato sauce, and then we can go ahead and debate the toppings until the end of time. (Count one vote from me for good ol’ fashioned pepperoni and sausage, thanks!)
Like many things in this world, pizza may seem simple. What more is it than just some ingredients spread out together over a plane of dough that then gets shoved into an oven? And from that perspective, sure, it is pretty straightforward. But there’s so much more to the history and development of pizza than you ever thought.
In this list, we’ll take a look at ten fascinating and lesser-known pizza facts. By the end of it, we’re sure your mouth will be watering, and you’ll be rushing to the nearest phone to place a delivery order!
Related: 10 Weirdest Pizza Toppings
10 Pizza’s Proud Origins
The very first ever-documented pizza in the world was created nearly 300 years ago. The year was 1738, the city was Naples in southern Italy, and the place was the “Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba.” They put together a doughy flatbread along with tomato sauce and cheese, slapped it into an oven, and called it a pizza!
As you might expect, that site—and its iconic invention—continues to be a major point of pride for the nation of Italy and specifically for people who hail from Naples. But that’s not the only notable beginning for one of Italy’s most famous (and tastiest) exports!
As legend goes, pizza took on a major development in 1889. That year, Neapolitan pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito was said to have created the Margherita-style pizza that we know and love today. He combined tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil in one new style of pie meant specifically for Queen Margherita of Savoy.
It seems that Esposito was sick and tired of making and eating French cuisine—which was the food of choice for the elites of Europe during the 19th century—so he made the new pizza and named it after the queen herself. It didn’t hurt that the three ingredients—tomatoes (red), mozzarella (white), and basil (green)—also matched up perfectly with the Italian flag!
Sadly, historians in recent years have debated about whether or not that story is actually true. The legend may have gotten the better of reality as far as Esposito’s supposed Italian flag inspiration is concerned. Regardless, Margherita pizza is still a staple in both Italy and the United States, and it’s just as delicious whether or not Queen Margherita of Savoy was actually the inspiration for the anti-French food flourish!
9 America Did It First! Sort of…
All the credit in the world goes to the Neapolitans for inventing pizza as we know it today. But even though it started up in Naples a few centuries ago, it really didn’t become super-popular in Italy for a long, long time. Instead, it was Italian immigrants to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who made pizza popular!
See, Neapolitans began to come in droves to the United States in the 19th century looking for factory jobs. They settled up and down the eastern seaboard, predominantly in places like New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. Some settled in other cities further inland, like Chicago and St. Louis. They brought with them the knowledge of pizza—and they put it to good use.
Even though native Neapolitans in Italy hadn’t really taken to pizza as a popular food by the 19th century, Italian immigrants to America latched onto it as soon as they got to the New World. At home in their immigrant communities, newly minted Italian-Americans would cook up pizzas because they were easy to make, the sum total of the ingredients was simple and readily available, and they could feed a lot of hungry mouths.
Soon, those pizza-making habits jumped to become a commercial endeavor. In 1905, Gennaro Lombardi opened up a pizzeria on Spring Street in Manhattan. He became the first licensed pizza vendor working in the city. And today, Lombardi’s is still in business! They aren’t at their original location anymore, but they’ve got the same original oven. You can go there and eat pizza now just like they did back then!
8 But the Greeks and Egyptians Did, Too
While the Italians may have invented pizza as we know it today, and the Americans popularized the food for the masses, neither of those cultures can truly lay claim to originating it. Hundreds and hundreds of years ago, the ancient Egyptians and ancient Greeks both created different styles of pizza-like dishes that were consumed readily by their communities. Even the Romans made a version.
In Egypt, kitchens were used to create flatbread-like foods that looked very similar to modern pizza and were piled high with delicious natural (and always organic!) toppings. And in ancient Greece, the Greeks had a dish called “plakous” that was very popular. That dish consisted of a flatbread base—just like in Egypt—with toppings that most commonly included herbs, onions, and garlic.
Of course, that’s not exactly like the cheese and tomato sauce combo that serves as the foundation of modern pizza. But it’s absolutely the same idea of supplying a light, easy-to-eat bread base and adorning it with fresh and flavorful toppings to chow down. So we suppose those two cultures truly deserve the credit for doing pizza first!
7 Soldiers Spread the Meal
Even as Italian-Americans began to eat pizza in large numbers after they emigrated to the United States, and even after they started opening up pizzerias from which they could actually officially sell pies to the masses, things still didn’t really take off. Not among non-Italian populations in the United States, at least.
In fact, pizza only became a popular item to eat in the U.S. after World War II. So it’s been less than a hundred years since pizza has become a regular, everyday food that we all love to enjoy with friends and family. And American soldiers returning home from battle in Europe are who we should be thanking for it!
See, American servicemen stationed in Italy during World War II were exposed to pizza for the first time in most of their lives. Immediately, they loved it. It was tasty and simple, and it kept them wanting to come back and eat some more. So, when they got home, they weren’t very happy that they couldn’t have pizza as often as they did back when they were fighting the Nazis.
To fix that, they informally sought out Italian-American communities in big cities like New York and Chicago, and soon, they began popularizing pizza as a food staple to non-Italian residents of those cities. As more Americans figured out how tasty the slices were, well, things just snowballed from there. But it started with soldiers!
6 The World’s Largest Pizza
It should only be fitting that the Italians would have the record for the world’s largest pizza. And they did—for a while. On December 13, 2012, Italian pizza makers in Rome crafted a pizza that was 13,580 square feet (1,261.6 square meters) in size. They nicknamed the pizza “Ottavia,” meant to be a direct homage to the first Roman emperor, Octavian Augustus. And it became the world’s largest-ever pizza when it was finally fully baked and turned into an edible delight! Amazing!
But a little more than a decade later, that all came crashing down. It was the Americans (and a YouTube star) who broke the record in 2023. The site was the Los Angeles Convention Center, and the star was Airrack, a well-known YouTube personality.
He and the international brand Pizza Hut got together and created a pizza that topped the Roman one. After days of carefully working out the dough, cheese, sauce, and pepperoni, the folks from Guinness World Records happily confirmed that the LA-based pizza had indeed broken the record.
In total, more than 13,000 pounds (6,193 kilograms) of dough, almost 600 gallons (2,244 liters) of pizza sauce, and 8,800 pounds (3,992 kilograms) of cheese were used in the pizza. Plus, the pizza makers put 630,000 slices of pepperoni on top for good measure. Unreal!
Oh, and there’s a happy ending to the story, too: According to Pizza Hut CEO David Graves, the mega-pizza ended up being doled out with 68,000 individual slices sent to food banks and homeless shelters. Amazing!
5 Pineapple Pioneers
How do you feel about having pineapple on your pizza? That remains one of the biggest, hottest, and most fiercely contested debates in food culture. And it has been for years! Ever since it was invented by a Greek immigrant living in Canada six decades ago…
Wait a minute. Did we write that correctly?
Hawaiian pizza—you know, pineapple, ham, that whole deal—wasn’t invented by a Hawaiian, or even in Hawaii? Nope! It was first put out in 1962 by a Greek immigrant to the Canadian province of Ontario. His name was Sam Panopoulos, and he was a true pioneer!
Panopoulos and his brothers owned a few pizza restaurants in Ontario in the early 1960s. They were doing Okay running the small business for a while, but after too long, they decided to mix things up and attract more customers. So they started thinking about creating new flavors and toppings for their pizzas.
One day, Sam landed on the Hawaiian island-themed inspiration, and history was made! They flung pineapple and ham on a pie, started selling it, and promptly divided their customer base into those who loved it and those who didn’t. The new style stuck, though, and even after Sam died in 2017, his Hawaiian-style legacy lives on.
4 Pizza on the Brain
If you really can’t get enough of pizza (like us), and you’ve always got pizza on the brain (especially after reading this list), might we suggest you head over to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The city of brotherly love boasts what they call the world’s first and largest pizza museum. And yes, it’s literally called “Pizza Brain.”
So, if you are finding that you can’t stop thinking about the cheesy, gooey food, maybe it’s time to pop over to Philly and enjoy a long, guided tour of the colorful history of pizza! Pizza Brain, as we noted, is the first-ever museum in the world dedicated to honoring pizza and cataloging its rise as a prominent food. There is a pizza museum in New York City now, too, but Philly’s Pizza Brain came first.
It has literally wall-to-wall pizza stuff on the inside, including pizza-related vinyl records, historic boxes, pizza-making implements, and more. It’s even got special action figures of icons ranging from Homer Simpson to Spider-Man holding pizza or in some way connected to the food. Basically, if it has literally anything to do with pizza, Philly’s Pizza Brain Museum probably has it on site!
3 Pizza, but Make It Japanese
Japan does pizza a little bit differently than the rest of the world. While they have imported the style of pizza from the rest of the world, the tasty meal in the East Asian nation is very, very different. For one, several very common Japanese pizza toppings, including squid ink, eel, and… get ready for it… mayonnaise. Yes, mayo! On pizza!
It serves as a very common base in place of tomato sauce and can also be combined with things like miso paste to really turn the dish’s flavor up another notch or two. Yum? While our aforementioned Greek friend may be resting in his grave with the knowledge that he pioneered pineapple on pizza, the Japanese have taken things to a completely different level.
For them, the squid ink on pizza is very often combined with pieces of actual squid itself. The ink, known as “ikasumi,” is used as a base. The black color of the pie may be arresting for those who see it for the first time, but it can actually be tasty! Pieces of squid top the pizza, too, making it possibly the world’s only black-and-white gooey dish. Maybe not the most appetizing thing to look at, but the Japanese swear by it. And tourists do, too!
2 A REALLY Expensive Pie
The cost of food (and everything else) sure seems like it’s getting more and more expensive these days, but the average pizza is still pretty cheap. That is when you compare it to one that New York City’s famed Industry Kitchen put together in 2016, at least. The NYC-based pizza chain created a shocking “golden pizza” that year, and the ingredients that top the pie are so mind-bogglingly expensive that we are still picking our jaws up off the floor!
For one, the South Street Seaport-based location put delicacies like foie gras and Ossetra caviar on top of this golden pizza. That alone would suggest that the cheesy meal was going to cost a pretty penny. But they went over the top with one very specific and surprising addition to their wood-fired creation: gold flakes!
Yes, the pie is sprinkled with 24-karat gold leaf all over the top of it. Because that’s real gold (and, yes, really edible), it’ll set you back a very pretty penny when it comes time to pay for the meal. The golden pizza costs $2,000 per pie—and New Yorkers from all boroughs quickly rushed in to pay for the pricey pie!
1 Pizza in Space!
This takes a whole new meaning to the term “Space Race.” In 2001, Pizza Hut became the first-ever pizza company to deliver a pie to outer space when they made the delivery successfully all the way up to the International Space Station. The fast food chain got together with a Russian space agency and convinced them to bring a pizza on board a rocket they were planning on sending up into space to dock with the ISS.
The rocket launched as planned and successfully docked high up in outer space to meet the astronauts on the ISS. In turn, the Russian astronauts who went onto the ISS from the rocket involved brought the pizza aboard, and the delivery was successful! In sum, Pizza Hut revealed that the little stunt cost them about $1 million to do.
Of course, it allowed them to make history with the first successful pizza delivery into outer space. So perhaps that was $1 million well-spent for a chain trying to market itself uniquely amid fierce delivery competition. We just have one question to ask about it: How much was the tip for the delivery driver?