Pizza: unpretentious international comfort food

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Pizza, as a food, is modest in nature. It is a simple combination of a flatbread base and a combination of toppings, the main ones of which, at least in modern times, are tomato and cheese.

So how did the humble pizza spread across the globe to become arguably the world’s most ubiquitous comfort food, and what does it look like in its various forms and iterations? More importantly, what types can we get our hands on here in Shanghai?

The first pizza-like food began its journey through time in the Mediterranean region around 2,500 years ago, when people rolled out dough there thinly and baked it, creating what we now call flatbread. . At first, instead of the main meal itself, bread was often served as a kind of edible plate, from which the main course was eaten and then the bread consumed afterwards.

Sometimes the bread itself served as a light meal, often topped with common ingredients at the time such as oil, dates and cheese.

So, in ancient times, two of the three basic ingredients of the food we know as pizza came together…but not yet tomatoes. In fact, the tomato is native to Central and South America and only appeared in Europe in the 16th century. It seems odd to imagine an Italy without tomatoes, as the fruit is one of the main staples of the country’s cuisine today, but it’s unlikely that Leonardo da Vinci snacked on tomato-based foods at his time, let alone the ancient Romans.

In the 18th century, what we now call pizza appeared in Naples, Italy, as a thin-crust pie topped with tomatoes, mozzarella, and herbs. Although originally considered a simple working-class food item, its popularity grew over the following decades. Its true arrival in the mainstream of food culture in Italy may have been in 1889.

According to the story, Italian Queen Margherita was served a pie with red tomato, cottage cheese and green basil leaves, the three colors of the country’s national flag, and loved the dish, which is now known under the name Pizza Margherita and is a mainstay. on the menus of Italian pizzerias.

Pizza Margherita is named after the former queen of Italy.

The global export of pizza began in earnest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when Italian immigrants settled in the United States in large numbers, bringing with them their culinary knowledge and treats. Pizza was among them, and in what would be a harbinger for the future of food worldwide, it was a big hit across the Atlantic.

After arriving in the United States, however, the pizza began to change and morph into new iterations of itself. Chefs and entrepreneurs would adapt the pizza to the tastes of their region, fuse the concept with ideas from other types of international cuisine, or sometimes simply take a creative leap of faith and invent a new kind of pie.

New York-style pizza most closely resembles its Neapolitan counterpart, as New York was the first landing place for most Italian migrants at the time. Although a bit cheesier and often larger in size than the original Italian version, New York pizza is a hit around the world, including here in Shanghai, where several pizzerias serve it as a whole pie or in collapsible individual slice.

New Yorkers often claim that their pizza is the real king of the pizzaverse―and I mean argue; the pizza debate is really heated and loud. However, the city of Chicago has created its own version of the food, and it differs quite markedly from that of Naples and New York.

Chicago’s “deep dish” style pizza is much thicker and heartier than its counterparts and has cheese, tomato sauce and other toppings piled inches thick on its pan-like crust. For many, one or two slices are more than enough to leave one completely stuffed to the gills, as the bulk and weight of the ingredients and toppings make it look more like a casserole than a traditional pizza. Bring a friend if you try this one.

Pizza: unpretentious international comfort food

Ma Xuefeng / SHINE

The Chicago-style deep dish (above) and Detroit-style rectangular pizza (below) originated in the United States.

Pizza: unpretentious international comfort food

Sun Minjie / SHINE

A third type of pizza popular in the United States and one of my favorites is the Detroit-style pizza, which is cooked in a rectangular pan with a slightly softer, airier crust and cheese that extends to the edge of the pan. tart, turning brown and crispy as it cooks. . Slicks of tomato sauce on the surface of the pizza bring it all together.

These three unique types of pizza are available here in Shanghai: CAGES Bar & Sports offers Chicago-style dishes and Home Slice Pizza in Detroit, both on sale once a month.

Pizza as a concept began to travel around the world during the 20th century, and the food began to change and reinvent itself to combine classic elements with a local twist. In Japan, sushi pizza is available, Australians have a Vegemite stuffed crust pie, and a pizzeria in Brazil is creating pizzas so extreme they’ve caught fire on social media for their extravagance.

Pizza: unpretentious international comfort food

Crazy Brazilian Pizza: This is a bit extreme.

Despite the lamentations of pizza traditionalists, the food is adaptable and changeable, and as such, it’s constantly changing. Marketing and advertising ingenuity is also a major driver.

US-based pizza conglomerates like Pizza Hut, Domino’s and Papa John’s all have a strong presence in the Chinese market, and alongside more common pies like pepperoni, mushroom or meat lovers, their menus feature interesting creations that probably wouldn’t top the sales charts. in the United States or Italy. The pizzas topped with carrots, crayfish or durians are far from what Queen Margherita enjoyed, but as long as they are appreciated by the customers, I say, not bad.

I can tell you that this Frankenstein here, marketed by Domino’s in China as “American-style potato and bacon pizza” is absolutely un-American in style, because not only does Domino’s not serve it in the United States but I’ve never seen anyone cook a pizza even remotely like it. But if it’s good, who cares?

Pizza: unpretentious international comfort food

Although not American style as the name suggests, this pizza is popular with consumers.

Just like the popular New Orleans chicken wing, which is a China-only marketing creation―yes, that’s right; it doesn’t exist in the city of New Orleans, and no one there has ever heard of it ― as long as it pleases some people’s palates, I’m all for it.

Expand your pizza-hungry mind and palate and savor the pies that Shanghai and the world have to offer!


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