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Origins of Pizza

I think you all can guess where pizza comes from… Italy! Translated, it literally means “pie”. This masterpiece has many origins for it being very versatile, the earliest it was recorded was first documented in 997 A.D. in Gaeta (Central Italy) and other parts of Southern Italy. However, the pizza we know of today was only served in 16th century Naples; mainly as a dish for the poor as it was readily sold on the street and wasn’t really a dish you would make or have at home.

classic white and red coupe parked near brown house

Pizza is merely a type of flatbread, so don’t be surprised if you see other regions serving a pizza-looking dish. In the 6th century, Persian soldiers seemed to bake flatbreads on their shields; in Ancient Greece, their citizens made a type of flatbread called patkous, topped with herbs, cheese, onion, garlic, etc.; in India, we have the naan and even the Chinese have a type of flatbread called bing.

This dish atypically consists of a flat round base of the dough with a variety of toppings, but most originally, it consists of tomatoes, cheese, and a kind of protein (meat, fish or vegetables). That’s why the precursor to pizza is also another famous Italian dish, the focaccia (a type of flatbread) that overtime, toppings were added to form the modern-day pizza.

The dish is basic and simple. And as the recipe travels, others put their own twist on this beautiful meal such as with the deep-dish pizzas, or the Hawaiian.

Pizza Breakdown: What’s in a pizza?

Crust

Normally, a flatbread pizza base would consist of wheat flour, water, yeast (and sugar to activate the yeast and give the pizza a nice browning), oil and seasonings to taste. It is important to take note that not all pizza crust taste the same although they might use the same ingredients. Some signature pizzas have thin crusts, to facilitate convenience and speed. Other signature pizzas have a thicker and bread-like texture, to make a slice more heavy, hardy and filling. To be technical about this, thicker crusts have a higher hydration level, this also depends on the type of flour used. You can read more here. Pizzerias that are true to the Neapolitan-style would have thin crusts and more American-style joints will have a heavier base with more toppings.

Baking Method and Time

Another critical aspect of the pizza is it’s cooking method. Whilst it may seem straightforward to put it in the oven, the oven matters as the taste profile AND texture depends on the heat source. The taste of a pie baked in a general gas oven as compared to a wood-fire oven is wholly different as often you get a uniform crisp with the former but a smokier and a duality of crisp and soft in the latter. Some examples of even include, the electric oven, the gas oven,

Shape and Cooking Apparatus

Whether a pizza is free-formed, cooked in a shallow pan or in a large dish, this determines what the focus of the pizza experience should be whether it is topping-centred, cheesy, thin and crispy with fresh toppings etc. The apparatus used will ultimately define the shape of the crust and its subsequent toppings. With the Detroit-style pizza, for example, it’s baked in rectangular steel trays that were used as automotive drip pans or containers holding small industrial parts in factories. That’s why the pie itself is rectangular, thick (almost like bread) with crispy bottoms and sides. The Neapolitan is traditionally circular, its crust flattened and stretched on the wooden peel (the giant wooden spatula-like object you see pizza chefs using) and then using the peel, it will be lightly tossed into the wood-fire oven with the pizza laying on the brick surface. Because the oven is so hot and the pizza so thin, its quickly baked and served, which justifies why it’s historically served as a kind of street food. Thus, the apparatus used often defines the shape of the pizza and also the method of how the pizza is cooked.

Sauce

Originally, pizza uses tomato sauce as it gives a tangy and rich taste to a rather dry and doughy crust. The red sauce gives it the signature bright red colour along with some moisture to take away from the hard crusts. However, overtime with experimentation and innovation, we see all kinds of sauces being served, namely in the US, with white sauce (similar to Pasta Carbonara), pesto (red or green), hummus, marinara and many more. Even amongst tomato sauces, there are different taste profiles as some add more herbs like oregano, some use more onions, some add garlic and some like it sweeter. There’s even pizza without sauce! 

Cheese

pepperoni pizza

This dairy product is an institution of pizzas over the world. Undoubtedly the most important ingredient when it comes to making the perfect pizza. A pizza without sauce might still be palatable i.e the four-cheese pizzas, but a pizza without cheese might just be a sin (sorry vegans). Whether it’s mozzarella from cows on a secluded mountain, or goat cheese, cheese is a necessity for a pizza. It adds a salty taste and a creamy texture that cannot be easily replaced. Cheese adds a richness to a pizza like no other, so if you want to have a good pizza, you need cheese, and good ones if possible.

Herbs

We see that with the Italian Margherita, fresh basil leaves are scattered around to give the pizza a pleasant aroma whilst at the same time, when you bite it, a strong and pungent taste that illuminates your mouth especially with the cheese and the crust. On the other hand, with the Marinara, it has somewhat a similar effect but this time with fresh oregano leaves. I would say herbs are considered a kind of topping as it can drastically change the flavour profile of the pizza and there is indeed a difference if you use fresh herbs instead of dried ones. Options include garlic, onion, olives and etc. Herbs are entirely optional on a pizza but they do add a touch of pizzazz.

Meats

What’s a pizza without pepperoni? These round slices of dried meats are originally called salami picante which means spicy salami. Some would argue the Italians created the peperoni but some argue that the American pizzas were the one that commercialised them as a pizza topping and I would agree. Many classic American pizzas were made famous for the combination of pizza base and meat. Whatever the case is, pepperonis taste amazing on pizza but having been inspired of being able to add meat on a pizza, millions begun to see meat as an essential topping on this dish. From small balls of chorizo, to chicken, to anchovies, to sea food, these sources of protein give the pizza more weight and nutrition. Personally, a pizza of mine must always have some meat but going without it is also perfectly fine.

Vegetables… and Fruits??

In the same vein as the section above, vegetables are a highly optional decision. It’s important not to confuse them with herbs as they’re often served in larger servings and the function is totally different as well. I would say vegetables aren’t really a common addition on pizza especially since there’s often not enough space on the pizza itself but it has been a rather popular one for vegetarians and vegans. Another controversial take is on the Hawaiian pizza where people enjoy having fresh pineapples on their slices as it adds a layer of sweetness to balance the savoury tastes of tomato and cheese. Whilst so far only the Hawaiian has commercialised using pineapple as a fruit on a pizza, no other fruits have been as popular. BUT, dessert pizzas are also a new innovation of the classic pizza.

Since you already know the technicalities of pizza, in the next section, I’ll be attempting to cover some of signature pizzas that are available on our island. Obviously, I won’t be covering all of them but these are the ones that you’d most commonly hear about.

Types of pizza and Taste Profiles

1. THE AUTHENTIC NEAPOLITAN

pizza with green leaf vegetable pizza delivery

What makes a Neapolitan pizza?

The term Neapolitan is a reference to the city of Naples, Italy. Similar to Neapolitan ice cream, the Neapolitan pizza or pizza Napoletana is a classic and simplistic combination of fresh ingredients. A basic dough, raw tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil and olive oil. There are different permutations such as the Pizza Marinara or the Pizza Margherita that fall in this group – the main gist is thin dough, little toppings, traditional taste.

This dish is everything but simple if you’re looking for the O.G. There’s even a strict set of rules, proposed by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN) that defines what a Neapolitan pizza should be.

For example, only wood-fire ovens are allowed; the mozzarella cheese used must be certified di Buafala Campana D.O.P which refers to a cheese made with water buffalo milk from the marshlands of Lazio and Campania and a specific type of tomato is recommended such as the pomodoro pelato S.Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese-Nocerino D.O.P (tomatoes from San Marzano). If you think job interviewers are picky, this guidebook makes them look like a joke.

Why go this far? Well… This perfect piece of pie (it’s the recipe), is protected under the European Commission (E.U.), under a Quality Control Scheme called the Traditional Specialty Guaranteed (TSG), back in 2009. Basically, the Neapolitan is an Italian trademark; to highlight the traditional aspects (i.e. the source of its ingredients, its method) and importantly, to protect it against misuse and falsification.

Therefore, only certain places with the AVPN certificate can serve a true Neapolitan pizza.

On the other hand, a certificate does not make or define tradition, the chefs, the culture and the history and do. Henceforth, if you’re looking for a genuine experience that is still ‘authentic’, find a restaurant with a wood fire oven as it gives that smoky flavour especially since it takes around 70-90 seconds to fully cook.

Or, you can just fly to Italy.

DIY TIPS:

Want the real thing? Or trying to? NEVER USE FROZEN DOUGH. NEVER. Pre-made dough, maybe. Premade mixes, also maybe. It’s important for you to note that it’s cheaper to buy the ingredients on its own as its cheaper and often what you can find at home (i.e flour, water, oil). Often enough, in pre-made mixes, they use more yeast than what’s on the usual Neapolitan or they’re just plain terrible. Making dough is actually pretty easy too. Here’s a recipe that I definitely recommend and it’s worth the effort.

2. New York Pizza

pizza delivery

What makes a New York Pizza?

New York is the city that never sleeps. Everyone is constantly moving around even during their meals; that’s why some of New York’s famous foods are the kind you can eat on the go, as you stand around and finish a small meal in a few bites. Some examples include hot dog stands, gyros/shwarma, soft pretzels and of course, the iconic New York pizza.

A NY-Pizza is characteristically large in size with a thin hand-tossed base. The crust is thin and stretchy, definitely thicker than the Neopolitan, and with a greater hydration level. Each slice is huge and the whole is even bigger because they’re usually sold individual slices to go on paper plates. Each piece is best eaten by hand, folded in half so that you don’t get sauce on your hand.

The toppings on the pizza is a derivation of the original Italian Neapolitan, originating from Italian immigrants back in the early 1900s, tomato sauce and cheese. In addition to that, the NY Pizza also popularised using pepperonis on pizza. Part of eating the NY Pizza is the experience where you clumsily try to eat a hot piece of pie as you’re trying to rush somewhere else and when it isn’t enough, it doesn’t hurt your pocket since it’s only a dollar a piece.

It’s impossible to have such a cheap price on our island but I’m sure we still can get some the taste at our local establishments.

DIY TIPS:
Here’s a
premade dough that I’ve personally used and SUCCESSFULLY attempted to make a NY Pizza. It’s just not that big but the taste is magnifico. For tomato sauce, I tried making it from scratch and the taste was extremely satisfying. But, if you’re pressed for time, pasta sauce often works. This is the recipe I used.

3. CHICAGO-STYLE DEEP DISH PIZZA

pizza delivery

What makes a pizza a “deep-dish”?

It’s pretty obvious from the title, it’s deep, and it often takes up the whole dish. This piece of pie is hefty; its weight comes from the multitude of toppings as well as the layer of cheese and sauce that hides under the top layer, By the time you take a bite, it’s lumps of meat, cheese, in tomato sauce with a bread-like crust that does little to nothing in trying to hold the toppings up. This pizza is true to the stereotypical definition of dessert pie, but it’s just savoury, and with some aspects, we love in a usual pizza. Just like how some people debate the existence of Hawaiian pizzas with controversial pineapple toppings; there are some debates on whether one likes their pizzas thin or super-thick. If you’re eager to join this debate, consider having a taste to see which side you’re on.

The deep-dish pizza hasn’t gotten much traction here on our island, but you can definitely try to make it yourself.

DIY TIPS:

I’d recommend using a cake tray if you’re attempting to make this one as everything rises quickly with this recipe. I’d also advice using the pre-made dough in the previous section but if you’re pretty bored during this COVID period, please go ahead in trying your hand at making your own dough. Depends on your tolerance of cheese, I’d recommend using less cheese as you might easily get muak or bored with the creamy taste. Furthermore, you can always add more melted cheese on the top AFTER the first taste if it’s not enough. However, cheese-fanatics might want to load up on the cheese. The best part of making your own pizza is all the decisions are in your hands.

4. HONOURABLE MENTION: CALZONE (NOT) PIZZA

holding pizza

What is a Calzone?

Translated from Italian, the calzone is a “stocking” or a “trouser” which seems like a rather odd name for a type of pizza but it does make sense if you’re referring to the pocket part. A pocket pizza is what I’d like to call the calzone. Here’s another controversial discussion, is a calzone considered a pizza? On a personal level, and I’m not a pizza expert, I do agree that calzones are NOT Pizzas. So why is it even mentioned on this list? It’s because they’re distant relatives to the pizza. Also, if you were to gloss over that it’s just a pizza folded in half (it’s a great way to cover up for a boo-boo on the crust), it has all the same ingredients of a usual pizza; the taste is similar but maybe a different visual and mouth-feel experience.

DIY TIPS:

It’s a pizza folded in half.

5. MODERN INNOVATIONS: California Pizza or London Pizza

According to Foodism, the definition of a California Pizza is an attempt to revive fresh local ingredients on a pizza base. Similar to that, the London Pizza has an interesting take on pizza, placing the multi-ethnic diversity of the Londonites onto the simple yet versatile dough base. That also begs the question; is there a Singapore pizza? Of course! Tradition is important but what keeps a culture going is not only originality and adherence to rules but experimentation, dynamism, and exploration. That’s why Pizza Delivery is doing a special promotion for Singapore and Singapore’s pizzas!

Score 2 pizzas at half price

pizza delivery promo

To add cherry (tomatoes) on top, score 2 pizzas for the price of one for a limited time only. Cart out any pizzas of your choice and save up to a whopping $34! Do note that discounts are automatically reflected in your shopping cart.

DIY TIPS:
Go ham on your pizza. I made a “buldak” (translated to Fire Chicken in Korean) pizza, adding the buldak sauce packet into the tomato sauce and sprinkled the pizza with my own spicy chicken made from scratch and it blew my mind. With pizza, you can seriously do anything you want. Your kitchen, your rules.

For many of us, burgers are an essential part of many of our diets, especially during social situations, pizzas are, too. Pizzas are more than just food at this point, they’re a social necessity and a memorable part of many gatherings and get-togethers. They make great drunk food-cravings too. Pizza is a great way to bring people together, whether it’s being served at a party, as a topic of conversation or to make them in someone’s kitchen. It’s a social activity because, in this day and age, everyone has eaten pizza, or had a taste of it. If someone hasn’t tried it before, then it’d be a great opportunity to recommend great spots or have a fun time making some.

Happy eating!

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