Pizza is one of the greatest food inventions since bread. It was originally baked in mud ovens by the ancient Mediterranean folk, among them the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians, who seasoned the bread with olive oil and topped it with native spices. It soon made its way to Italy where the topping of tomato sauce was introduced by the creative cooks of Naples. It can be said that its history is as old as the church, too, because the first documentation of pizza went as far back as 997 AD in the Italian town of Gaeta, where it is said that a bishop required a tenant to give him “duodecim pizza” or 12 pizzas every Christmas day and another 12 every Easter Sunday.
The bishop must have had quite the spartan pizza, though, because cheese is said to have been added only in 1889 when the Royal Palace commissioned the Neapolitan pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito to create a pizza in honor of the visiting Queen Margherita. Tales have it that the Queen took a liking to the pizza presented in the colors of the Italian flag: red from the tomato, green from basil, and white from the mozzarella. So Pizza Margherita was born-and remains popular to this day.
In Italy, according to well-traveled foodie Aleth Ocampo, people have remained true to the art of making Pizza Margherita that some establishments such as the Pizzeria Spontini serve nothing but this flavor-and have been doing so for the past 50 years!
Today, some of the more popular pizzas are the New York pizza and the Chicago deep dish pizza. Rachael Ray even hosted a contest on her cooking show that pitted New York against. Chicago. But in fact the Americans were late in welcoming the pizza. The first establishment to introduce pizza to American shores was Lombardi’s in Manhattan, the United States’ first licensed pizzeria, in 1905 (Lombardi’s is still around). In its authentic form, however, with garlic and oregano, it was not immediately popular.
In fact, in 1947, a New York Times article had a worldly-wise food writer lamenting how the United States was missing out on this incredible dish: “The pizza could be as popular a snack as the hamburger if Americans only knew about it.” Possibly in response to this observation, the Italian pizza was Americanized and soon enough forever changed the American culinary landscape.
By the 1950s when pizza had well inched its way into American soil, the burger and the hotdog had to make way to accommodate pizza as among the most popular American dishes. Wrote the Times in 1953: “The highly seasoned pizza with its tough crust and tomato topping is such a gastronomical craze that the open pie threatens the pre-eminence of the hot dog and hamburger.”
This craze soon enough hit Manila. Arturo Fernandez and wife Lita Gonzales, who had previously been based in Brooklyn and learned to make pizza from their Italian neighbors, brought authentic New York pizza to Manila when they moved back to Manila and opened Di Mark’s Pizza Garden, which was named after their son. It was literally located in the garden of their home on Menlo Road, Pasay City, on April 1, 1957. Today Di Mark’s has several branches, although the most popular branch on Pasay Road has closed. (http://www.dimarkspizza.com).
It took another 20 years since Di Mark’s opened before the pub-style pizzeria called Shakey’s opened in 1975. In the ’80s, the pan pizza and family-style pizza of Pizza Hut shook Shakey’s market. But Shakey’s has since redeemed itself and regained its throne as the most popular among the franchise pizzas, with the Manager’s Choice flavor still topping the list for pizza-lovers. We have to admit, the thin-crust pizza with greasy cheese to this day remains the most popular pizza among discerning Pinoys.
Meanwhile, among the thick-crusted pizzas, the most popular now is Papa John’s. The dough is light although thick, and the toppings packed with flavor and swimming in gooey cheese, plus you have the option to dip the pizza in butter. Most popular is the Super Papa’s and the All the Meats pizzas. Make sure to crush and then spread the jalapeños and drizzle your pizza with butter for full effect!
For the vegetarians, all these brands have their own versions for non-meat eaters. But standing out is Stella’s Truffled Mushroom pizza. It is cooked in a wood fire (pugon) oven so the dough is toasted beautifully, while the mushrooms’ flavors leap at you.
For Filipino loyalists, Sandy’s Pizza has mastered the pizza for the Pinoy palate. Sandy Arellano has created flavors such as Tocino Pizza, Laing Pizza, Spanish Sardines with Capers and even a Filipino Adobo with Kesong Puti pizza which are all as delicious as they are Filipino.
For gourmet pizza, there is Puccini’s at The Fort. Even foodie First Lady Imelda Marcos used to visit this place for an Italian pizza fix. More affordable brick oven pizza can also be found at Gino’s Brick Oven Pizza on Katipunan. Their pizza margherita is simple yet hearty and for the prices offered, absolutely worth it.
But the best budget pizza is found on Connecticut in Greenhills, at a (sometimes) events venue named Torch. The pizzas are thin, like flat bread, and rectangular-y (it’s not strictly a rectangle; it’s quite shapeless, actually!), and take on the flavors of sandwiches. A popular flavor is the Hermanos pizza which is very spicy if you bite into a piece of chili; it’s very Mexican. But most recommendable is the Philly Cheesesteak pizza which is packed with meat and not shy on flavor. For only P360+ for a 16” pizza, it’s a steal!
If you only care about size and are not too picky about flavors, there’s Big Guys Pizza. It’s no gourmet pizza but it will definitely feed a LOT of people! This 36-inch pizza is so big the delivery boy needs to carry it on his head like plywood. If Mahal (the actress) stood behind this box, she would be fully covered. You can literally wrap a baby in this pizza. It is sliced into squares to give you over 70—that’s right, 70—slices. One pizza can have four different flavors. Same concept goes for Calda’s pizza.
If you are craving a real New York pizza, former New Yorkers swear by Nolita at The Fort. These are large in size but have a thicker crust and it’s the kind you need to fold for a full benefit of flavors. The Wild Mushroom Walnut Ricotta, Spinach and Artichoke (P220) is most impressive and you will remember it for days.
Let’s pray that Mariela Luna and Tony Cancio of Kanin Club and Cafe Breton finally share with the public the pizza that they serve but to a few lucky guests at their farm in Upper Silang, Cavite. It uses fresh Italian oregano and arugula right from their garden and is baked in their personalized brick oven.
Finally, for dessert, L’Incontro offers (aside from their own gourmet pizza) a chocolate pizza with strawberries on top! A merging of the two most popular dishes on earth: pizza and chocolate. What’s not to love?
Clearly the pizza has conquered the world. It has definitely come a long way from being just a simple mud-oven unleavened bread topped with spices and olive oil! If that bishop back in 997 AD were alive today, I’d bet he’d still be ordering 12 pizzas every Christmas! •
Sandy’s Pizza. 683 J. Abad Santos St., Little Baguio, San Juan. Tel. 721-8334
Stella. Bonifacio High Street Central, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. Tel. 799-2888
Big Guys Pizza. Madison Square (Libis) Tel. 584-6702; Visayas Avenue (Quezon City) Tel. 921-5791; Makati Avenue (Makati City) Tel. 868-1715
Calda Pizza. N. Domingo (Quezon City) Tel. 726-7344; Pioneer Street (Mandaluyong) Tel. 470-2863; Blue Ridge (Katipunan Ave.) Tel. 421-0908; P. Noval (Sampaloc, Manila) Tel. 735-6719; Makati (Malugay) Tel. 478-5127