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Ah, pizza. Ask a few people what their favorite food is, and it’s bound to come up. Pizza is one of the most popular foods in America, and whether it’s from a fast food joint, your supermarket’s freezer section, a dollar-slice joint on the streets of New York, or an artisanal pizzeria, it always seems to taste good. But this magical combination of bread, cheese, and sauce didn’t come into the world fully-formed, and we bet that there are some things you didn’t know about it.
People have been topping bread with stuff for thousands and thousands of years, and pizza can trace its roots to the earliest inhabitants of the Mediterranean. The ancient Greeks topped flatbreads with herbs, and the first documented use of the word “pizza” was in 997 AD in Gaeta, Italy. The precursor to modern pizza was developed in Naples, where by the late 1700s it became a local specialty of the city’s poorer areas. Over time, two primary varieties developed in the city: marinara (topped with oregano, garlic, and olive oil) and Margherita (with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and olive oil) — named in honor of Queen Margherita of Savoy, wife of the Italian king Umberto I. To this day, these are the styles preferred by Italian pizza purists.
Pizza first made its way to the United States around the turn of the twentieth century, along with the thousands of Italian immigrants who descended on cities including New York City, Chicago, St. Louis, and Philadelphia. The first "pizza pies" sold in the United States were offered by street peddlers, and small pizzerias soon opened in Italian neighborhoods. America’s first pizzeria is widely considered to be the one opened by Genarro Lombardi in New York in 1905. While it’s still in business today, it’s not America’s oldest continuously operated pizzeria; more on that later.
Today, pizza is far more than a regional Italian specialty or a delicacy of Italian enclaves. It’s one of the most ubiquitous foods around, for one main reason: It’s delicious. Whether it’s a strictly Neapolitan-style Margherita pie, a meat-lover’s pizza from your local chain, Chicago-style deep-dish, or a frozen pizza heated up in the microwave, there’s just something about pizza that connects with us on a deeper level, one that hits all the pleasure sensors in the brain. Want to learn more about pizza? Read on, and after you’re finished, get your appetite going by checking out our ranking of the 101 best pizzas in America. And take our survey for 2015's ranking!
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