On the corner of Lincoln and Market streets there is a small brick building. It's made of those bad art deco sandy colored bricks, not the good old fashioned red kind, built with by the masons of yesteryear. The windows and doors of the building are boarded closed with cheap weatherbeaten plywood and rusty nails. The wire skeleton that once held the plastic Coca-Cola sign bearing the name of the establishment serves only to frame the dirty sky that hangs lightly over it. Only one thing remains to remind us of past glory -- the white plastic addendum hanging from that empty wire shell. It reads, in fading black block letters, "Food & Pizza." There it stands, alone, telling every passer-by only that there is a distinction to be made between the two, as if pizza were a glorious gem to the culinary jeweler. "This is pizza!" it proclaims, "But at our fine establishment you can also obtain those other items we call 'food.' We must allow for those poor uncultured saps for whom the finest of things causes heartburn. After all, their money is just as welcome."
It is an important distinction to make, that line between food and pizza, for it is pizza we speak of today, and not food.
Pizza, contrary to popular belief, is not Italian, though it is often mistaken as such because of its usual combination of tomato and cheese. It resembles spaghetti, that most American of Italian treats (which comes from China), in which a dough (not unlike pizza dough in its original form) is smothered in a tomato sauce, resplendent with garlic, and, often, meat and then dusted with Romano cheese (for the less adventurous Parmesan is usually a favorite). Pizza, however, is an entirely different entity. Pizza, for one thing, is not noodly. Secondly, pizza is geometric. It is most often found in circles, the symbol of nature. Native Americans used to create entire encampments in the form of a circle, with their conical tepees (a circle at the base) forming concentric circles within. They took their cue from the world around them. Even a bird's nest is in the shape of a circle to protect its young. Could not the same be said of the pizza? Forming a circle, its tough outer crust tries to protect the nesting pepperoni from harm. (The circular nature of pizza also lead New Yorkers to call it "pie," an insinuation that has made some New Englanders shake their heads in Yankee disgust for years.) Pizza can also be found in squares or rectangles. This less common species is often found in less classy establishments where cookie sheets are substituted for the more refined pizza pan. It is, of course, the more perfect, circular pizzas of which we speak.
To think of pizza as nothing more than a piece of circular bread smattered with tomatoes and cheese is, of course, almost sacreligious to the cultures of the world. Think instead of the variations pizza sees worldwide. The Hawaiians (though part of America it must be conceded that they are two separate cultures) have pizza with ham and pineapple, simulating within the shape of the pizza the circular motion of a pig on a spit turning slowly over a fire, ever awaiting the sweet glaze of pineapple which is to meet it at the table. The Greeks smother their pizza dough in garlic, feta, black olives and spinach bringing pizza, full circle, back to their Mediterranean history. The Japanese do not have a cultural variation of pizza, primarily because many of their foods are circular in nature, already. (It is speculated by some that the introduction of anchovies on pizza was meant as an attempt to draw the Japanese into the cultural mystique of pizza. The Japanese were unimpressed, as were many others. It still, however, remains a favorite.) The Japanese, however, have adopted pizza because of its recent close ties to America. They are, perhaps, more informed than others.
The origins of pizza have been speculated upon for years. One Boston based pizza parlor claims right to the origins of pizza saying that one day, their dear grandfather (may he rest in peace) in his last days of senility, was trying to fulfill two orders at the same time: dry toast (a well-known hangover cure) and spaghetti. While one poor man learned that dry toasted spaghetti does little to counteract a prior evening's worth of gin consumption, the other bit into a piece of bread slathered in spicy tomato sauce and Parmesian cheese. The former rushed for the Men's Room while the other exclaimed, "That's wicked pissah!" (An outsider might conclude that both had the same reaction.) The old man, who was of a strong Slavic background, nodded and said, "Wicked pizzah!" And pizza was born.
Many have disputed this claim, and rightfully so.
Rather, pizza's long and arduous journey to the corners of Lincoln and Market Streets began in a very small village at the bottom of a very large volcano.
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
6.13.07 @ 8:08a
I don't care who invented it. It was a smashing idea. Don't they eat pizza in Italy? I don't remember seeing any, but that doesn't mean it wasn't there. I do believe that Tony Soprano thinks it's an Italian thing, and, furthermore, he calls it a pie. Wherever he is......
6.13.07 @ 8:43a
Pizza instead of beer. Heh.
6.13.07 @ 4:59p
So you're saying pizza is...Good Eats.
I do have to get dinner. For some reason I'm now thinking pizza.
6.13.07 @ 6:05p
Holy cow, I love pizza. When I worked at Pizza Hut in high school and college, I ate pizza nearly every night I worked, and never tired of it.
I also had the metabolism of a hummingbird back then.
I love the versitility of it. You can put just about anything on bread, slather it with cheese, and it's going to taste pretty good.
The way you keep coming back full circle - very funny!
6.13.07 @ 11:46p
My dog Abi came to us ten years old, and with a frisbee in his mouth. He also came to us understanding what pizza was. His prior owner must have trained him well about frisbees and pizza. Both, not coincidentally, circular things. Dog wisdom.
Best pizza available around here: Napoli's white pizza.
6.14.07 @ 1:54a
Isn't pizza the 5th basic food group?
6.15.07 @ 1:39p
Pizza is the 5th basic food group. Especially when broke and/or hungover. A fresh cheese slice rocks.