[Caution: grab a phone and a ton a napkins, because this post will make you hungry and desperate to get the nearest pizza delivery man to your doorstep.]
Cross-cultural consumer behavior is all about how people do things differently around the world and how businesses cater to those differences. On the topic of catering, most Americans are surprised when they learn that one of their favorite “classic Italian dishes” isn’t so classic to the Italian way.
A Slice of Pizza History
Considered a peasant’s meal in Italy for centuries we cannot say who invented the very first pizza pie. Food historians agree that many peoples in the Mediterranean, including the Greeks and Egyptians, ate pizza-like dishes. However, modern pizza has been attributed to baker Raffaele Esposito of Naples. In 1889, Esposito who owned a restaurant called the Pizzeria di Pietro baked what he called “pizza” especially for the visit of Italian King Umberto I and Queen Margherita.
Fast-forward to 1905, the first pizzeria in North America was opened by Gennaro Lombardi at 53 1/3 Spring Street in New York City. The first “Pizza Hut” appeared as a chain of pizza restaurants in the United States during the 1930s and Rose Totino invented frozen pizza shortly after.
[Thanks for the history lesson, Mary Bellis]
So what’s the big deal? Isn’t pizza delicious everyone and that’s why everyone loves it? True, but how we eat it is what makes the difference. Here are 5 ways of how Americans do pizza differently:
We can tell you the difference between a New York style thin and a deep-dish Chicago style, but which is the OG version? The answer: neither. New York’s version might be close, but the traditional crust is light, healthy, and excludes oil from its recipe. Italian crusts also prove to be homogenous, with very little variation per region while styles in New York change dramatically from restaurant to restaurant.
When our friend Gennaro Lombardi started the pizza craze in New York, thick crust pizzas also caught momentum. Baking focaccia, or a thick crusted bread, Italian bakeries in New York made focaccias with vegetable or various toppings, making the first thick crust pizzas.
Less is more, right? Not to Americans. Americans know pizza to be synonymous with cheese but in Italy, they’d think we’ve gone overboard with the dairy. Italy serves pizza with a sprinkling of mozzarella cheese, where you could still see the crust between the melted pieces of cheese; it does not contain as much cheese as in the American pizzas. While we swoon for that magical moment when a string of cheese pulls and hangs from a slice you’ve just taken, the taste of Italy’s pizzas is very light and not heavy like an American pizza.
Again, less is more? Not in America. Italian pizzas take a minimalist approach: single topping pizzas, often anchovies or vegetables like basil or mushrooms, and little to (dare I say it) no sauce. Take the alternative and you’ve got your classic American take-out pizza: Deluxe toppings, hold the anchovies, extra sauce, and don’t be shy on the cheese.
And here’s a fun statistic: Americans eat approximately 350 slices of pizza per second. And 36 percent of those pizza slices are pepperoni slices, making pepperoni the number one choice among pizza toppings in the United States. If you go to Italy and order a pepperoni pizza, be cautious; you’ll get bell peppers … it’s a language thing.
However, topping profiles vary around the world. While Italians like it simple, and Americans want everything but the kitchen sink, cultures have adapted pizza to their kitchen’s ingredients. In India pickled ginger, minced mutton, and paneer cheese are the favorite toppings for pizza slices. In Japan, Mayo Jaga (a combination of mayonnaise, potato and bacon), eel and squid are the favorites. Green peas rock Brazilian pizza shops and Russians love red herring pizza.
4. Meal Plan
In the States, pizza increased in popularity both as a cheap meal-in-one food during the Great Depression and with the return of US servicemen from Italy at the end of World War II. Today, we order pizzas to share with a group, whether family or friends. In Italy, one size fits all – that is, there’s normally only one size you can get. Italian pizzas are personal sized, made to eat as an entrée and not a finger food. Touching on how pizza isn’t a finger food, Italian pizzas don’t even have slices. Baffling… I know. This pizza comes with a fork and knife, the same set you’d eat a steak with.
5. Fire & Ice
Probably one of the biggest differences between American and Italian pizza is the type of oven it is cooked in. In Italy, it’s not a pizza if it wasn’t cooked in a wood-fire oven. In fact, a pizzeria that makes pizza with anything other than a wood-fire oven in Italy isn’t actually allowed to call itself a pizzeria. In America, of course, it’s a different story. Pizza is cooked in all types of different ovens, even the one that you have in your own kitchen at home. And we still call it a pizza.
And the biggest innovation that baffles Italians is the frozen pizza, credited to Rose Totino. In Italy, every pizza is made to order, with a pizzero, or pizza cheff, kneading dough and placing toppings to request. Leave it the industrialized America to take an adaptable product and standardize it for ready-to-cook, storable alternatives.
One commonality, though, is what makes the pizza most delicious, irrelevant of location: the pizza chef. Thank you Pizzarias, for satisfying appetites around the world.