How Did Pizza Get From Italy to Toronto?

People often think of pizza as a type of Italian food. But America has managed to take the pizza, first brought over by hard working Italian immigrants, and transform it into one of the most popular foods in the world. So much so that over 42 million Americans eat pizza daily.

The most popular type of pizza is New York style. This thin crust, large slice version of the pizza is now found all over the world. In many ways the story of how New York style pizza made it to Toronto, Ontario is the story of North America.

This is the history of pizza.

How Did Italy Invent Pizza?

Pizza was invented in Naples, Italy in the 18th century when the poor people of the city began adding tomatoes to their yeast-based flat bread. This was quite the innovation because up until that time most people in Europe believed tomatoes to be poisonous.

The people living all around the Mediterranean had been eating some version of a flatbread topped with olive oil for thousands of years. But it wasn’t until the poor people in Naples were brave enough and desperate enough to experiment with tomatoes that the dish we now recognize as pizza started to take shape.

In Italy, pizza remained primarily a “peasant food” for some time. But because it was cheap to make and you could create endless variations, it began to be sold as street food. It eventually gained widespread popularity and pizza became an Italian dish.

The Birth of Two Classics:

The history of pizza wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the two most popular types of classic Italian pizza. Today we know them as the marinara and the margherita.

Tuscan Pizza | History of Pizza
Gulf of Naples

The marinara was named because it was the traditional food fishermen’s wives (la marinaras) would make for their husbands when they returned from their fishing voyages. This pizza has a topping of tomato, oregano, garlic, and olive oil.

The margherita pizza is topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil. This pizza gets its name from the legend that a baker prepared three pizzas for King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy. The pizza the queen liked best was then named for her and became known as the margherita.

Pizza gradually grew in popularity throughout the areas surrounding Naples, and eventually to much of Italy. It didn’t spread any farther until Italian immigrants from the Naples area began coming to the United States in large numbers.

Pizza Arrives in New York

One of these immigrants, Gennaro Lombardi, opened up the first pizzeria in America in 1905 when he setup shop in New York’s Little Italy neighborhood.

Lombardi was originally from Naples. He made pizza and sold it on the street as a young man. Lombardi quickly learned that he would have to make some changes from his traditional Naples style pizza if he was going to make it in New York. Instead of using a wood-fired oven, he used a coal-powered oven due to costs. He also began using a different kind of mozzarella cheese.

Originally, Lombardi tried to sell entire pies for five cents. But, many of the people in the area could not afford an entire pie. Lombardi quickly pivoted to selling pizza by the slice. He found that it made his food more affordable for people in the neighborhood and he could make more per pie by selling it by the slice.

The Rise of Competition:

Over the years Lombardi continued to change his pizzas to suit his American customers. Other pizzerias cropped up and openly competed with Lombardi. Each shop featured their own unique style. Without competition who know’s how the history of pizza would be different.

One of Lombardi’s key employees, Antonio Totonno Pero, who had helped Lombardi open the first pizzeria, left and moved out to Coney Island to open his own shop. Pero had been in charge of making the pizza at Lombardi’s and was responsible for most of the innovation in the ingredients and technique.

In the years after Pero left, hundreds of other pizzerias sprang up. Most found that, like Lombardi, the best way to be successful was to sell pizza by the slice. It quickly became a favorite of blue-collar workers all over the city because it was hot, delicious, and cheap. In order to make the pieces easier to eat, most busy workers would buy a slice, fold it in half, and eat it on the way back to work. This made the pizzas portable street food and kept workers from getting their sauce and toppings all over them.

What Makes a Pizza New York Style Pizza?

The history of pizza now features hundreds of varieties. The two most prominent styles are Chicago and New York. But what makes a pizza New York style?

The most obvious features of New York style pizza are the thin crust and the large slices. New York pizza is often sold by the slice, but you can also buy an entire pie.

New York style also has a light layer of tomato sauce on a hand-tossed crust. Full-fat mozzarella cheese is placed on the sauce and any other desired toppings cover the cheese layer.

Because New York style pizza was originally street food, the oversized slices can easily be folded in half at the crust and eaten with one hand.

Manuel Opens La Pizzeria in Toronto

New York style pizza may have originated in the city, but it didn’t stay there. Over time, many people have exported this type of pizza all over the United States. However, if you want the best New York style pizza, you need to find someone who learned the craft at the source: New York.

Manuel spent many years learning from NYC pizza masters. He spent thousands of hours carefully mixing dough, hand tossing crusts, and baking delicious pies. Manuel likes to view his training as never ending and each pie continues his craft.

In 2014 he brought his talents, experiences, and pizza knowledge to Toronto, Ontario where he opened La Pizzeria. Not only is La Pizzeria the best pizza in Toronto, it is the best New York style pizza in the entire GTA area.

If you want a taste of authentic New York style pizza, you need you make your way to La Pizzeria.

Finally, did you enjoy reading about the history of pizza? Stay tuned to our blog as we go through the history of our menu. You’ll learn where our dishes originated, the cooking process, and different variations of the dish. In the meantime, make sure you follow us on Facebook and Instagram.