If you’re a fan of authentic Italian cuisine, then you are very familiar with classic dishes such as pasta carbonara, eggplant parmesan, and cannoli. There’s one dish, however, that stands out above the rest as a favorite Italian classic: the Margherita pizza. As a traditional Italian pizza variety, it has withstood the test of time and risen above the rest as a preference for even the pickiest pizza eaters. But have you ever wondered about the origins of the pizza? If you have, keep reading for a little bit of history, and a little bit of mystery surrounding the Margherita pizza.
Queen Margherita was born in the middle of the 1800s as a princess living in the region of Sardinia. She was a beloved little girl with a leaning towards education, curiosity, and literature. When she came of age, it was time for her to be married off. Several suitors were considered, but her family decided the best option was Prince Umberto, heir to the throne and Margherita’s first cousin.
When Umberto became King, Margherita became much more involved in the politics of the day and was an intelligent and poised leader next to her husband. While he was involved in various love affairs, she strengthened others through literature and charitable efforts.
As the story goes, the Margherita pizza was invented by a famous pizza maker in Naples when the King and Queen were on a royal visit. Tired of the rich gourmet French cuisine being served to royals around Europe, Queen Margherita yearned for some authentic real-people food. She approached the pizza maker, the most renowned through all of Naples, and asked him to create for her three types of pizza to try.
The pizza maker did his best and offered her three versions to try. The first was a pizza marinara. It was plain but fresh, consisting of pizza dough and a tomato-based marinara sauce flavored with oregano and plenty of garlic. The second pizza was Napoli-style, with a bit of tomato sauce, a small amount of mozzarella cheese, salty anchovies, and capers. Neither of these pizzas was what the Queen wanted. The third pizza, however, was one she approved of. It featured a light and fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and sprigs of fresh basil. The pizza-maker named it after her.
The story is a good one and explains how the delicious pizza got its name, but there are a few elements that don’t add up.
After the Queen approved of the pizza and the pizza maker, Raffaele Esposito named it after her, he asked for the Royal Seal as a way of proving to others that his story was true. The queen sent a servant with a letter, thanking him for the pizza. The letter and seal can still be seen in the original pizzeria.
But here is where it gets interesting. It seems like a bit of a coincidence that the pizza, now a country-wide favorite, very much resembles the Italian flag (red, white, and green). Could it have been a ploy to encourage nationalism?
Recently, food historians have looked into the tale to see about its authenticity and a few other irregularities in the story. For one, the royal stamp received looks very similar to the one used at the time, but it is definitely not identical. Secondly, the stamp was placed unusually on the paper. It is traditionally placed in the top left corner, but the one in the pizzeria is off-center. Furthermore, the letter given to Esposito was written on regular everyday paper and not the fancy royal stationery commonly used for official business. And finally, the handwriting does not match the supposed servant’s who wrote and delivered it when compared with other historical documents.
It’s difficult to say if the story is true. The pizza maker ended up selling his restaurant later on. When the new owners hit hard times in the 1930s, the story became more widely spread, as if it were a way to garner attraction to the dying pizzeria.
Surrounded by mystery, the Margherita pizza still makes for a delicious meal. If you’re ready to get your hands on a slice, check out Quattro for an authentic and delicious Margherita pizza that’ll have you eating like a queen.