Friday, June 4, 2010

All World Pizza

Naples, Italy

Italy's Campania region calls for an obligatory nod to history. The Hercula-neum and Pompeii near Naples are pretty easy to appreciate as far as history goes as they are our best examples of ancient roman cities. However, there is a local historical experience that is every bit as compelling as the roman ruins- and far more appetizing.

As it turns out Naples proclaims itself to be the birthplace of pizza. While this is regarded as the quintessential Italian dish of today, pizza took centuries to become a classic.

It wasn’t being eaten in 39AD when ash from Mt Vesuvius covered the area. Nor was pizza available in the Neapolitan restaurants favoured by Caravaggio and Bernini 1600 years later. Today’s tomato, mozzarella and basil pizza relied on some of the world’s greatest campaigns to bring the key ingredients together.

Alexander the Great spread a European empire to the Indian Ocean and back again. Thanks to him basil was introduced to European cuisine by 350 BC. In that same era- but a world away, the Aztecs were domesticating a native plant and harvesting its green, pea-sized fruits. It would take nearly 2000 years and Spanish conquistadors to bring what the Aztecs called the tomatl into delicious contact with Indian basil. While under Spanish control, eastern spice met western flavour along the Mediterranean coast to produce pizza, the taste of Naples.

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