PIZZA, EH? HOW CANADIANS CAME TO LOVE ITALY'S FAVOURITE PIE
Believe it or not, pizza hasn’t always been an outrageously popular dish. In fact, back in the 1700’s, it was known to be a poor man’s food – a recipe that was meant for convenience, not enjoyment. Pizza was meant to keep families’ bellies full and use whichever ingredients were readily available. So, how did this dish not only overcome its reputation, but also travel across the Atlantic to become one of Canada’s favourite meals?
From rags to riches
If you’re a pizza lover, you have the Napoli people to thank: pizza as we know it today was developed in Naples, Italy in the late 18th century, when daring pizzaïolo chose to add tomatoes to their traditional flatbread recipe. Until that point, most Europeans believed that tomatoes (which were imported from America at the time) were poisonous, so once word began to spread that they were actually quite delicious, pizza’s status was changed forever.
Even the royal family wanted in on this delectable dish. Named after Queen Margherita when it was created especially for her by an Italian chef1, this thin-crust pie – dressed with fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, and basil – became Naples’ pride and joy.
Becoming "Little Italy"
You can’t talk about the history of pizza without paying homage to Italian immigrants, drawn in by jobs with industrial companies and railroads. In Montreal and Toronto, they sought out neighbourhoods where they could grow their own food: cultural pockets that are now known as each city’s respective “Little Italy.”
Over the years, immigrant Italian families developed tight-knit communities with vibrant restaurants, including iconic neighbourhood cafés where locals gathered to enjoy old country flavours made from homegrown ingredients – including, of course, the noble tomato.
But pizza didn’t rise to popularity in Canada until the 1950’s. The end of the Second World War marked a spike in Italian food’s popularity as soldiers posted in Italy made their way home, bringing with them a taste for the country’s dishes. Venturing to Little Italy to satisfy their pizza cravings, soldiers helped turn pizza into a North American staple: more and more shops started popping up in cities like Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, and New York.
Right alongside the influx of Italian immigrants and the rise of pizza popularity in the 1950’s, Saputo was born. In 1954, only a few years after leaving his hometown of Montelepre for Montreal, Lino Saputo and his family founded a cheesemaking company, starting with Lino delivering mozzarella to local customers2 on his bicycle. Shortly after, the company’s first major facility was built in Saint-Michel (a borough of Montreal) and the rest is history.Watch : Saputo's Tribute to Pizzerias.
To each their own
Over the next few decades, pizza reached international stardom. Cities began developing their own unique recipes, flavours, and styles, and pizza became a symbol of fun, family time, and joie de vivre. Here are some of the best-known region-specific pizza creations:
- Chicago deep dish: baked in a round pan that is typically between 1.5 to 2 inches deep, these pies are stuffed with saucy, cheesy goodness.
- Hawaiian pizza: did you know this specialty recipe was invented in Ontario? In 1962, Greek-born Sam Panopoulous decided to experiment with a can of pineapples when he grew tired of the same old ingredient rotation3. The rest is history!
- Pizza-ghetti: found exclusively in fast food and family restaurants in Quebec, this pizza-spaghetti hybrid is a carbohydrate match made in heaven. Bon appétit!
Generations old and new
The innovators that brought pizza to the North American masses were rule-breakers, trendsetters, and culture pioneers. They left a huge imprint on our culinary history, paved the way for future food innovations, and created lifelong pizza fans the world over. It’s hardly an exaggeration to call these pies a cultural icon4.
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