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Published:June 27th, 2008 09:13 EST
American Junk Food: Pizza

American Junk Food: Pizza

By Daniel Mabee

"Friday was pizza day, the best day of the week/All the kids would line up super early just to eat!"

                       - "Pizza Day," The Aquabats

When I was a child, few things excited me more than pizza. After Sunday church, my family would always take me and my sister out to the buffet at our local Pizza Hut. Any night my parents were too exhausted to cook, we always hoped to hear the doorbell ring, knowing a pizza delivery boy would be waiting on the other side of the door. And, of course, if we begged enough, they may have even bought us some frozen pies for when the whim struck us (which was often). Today, I still have a deep love for pizza, as do millions of Americans.

Nevertheless, we weren`t the first to slap out  a dough patty. People have been topping flatbreads in the Mediterranean with cheese and other ingredients for more than 2,000 years. It wasn`t until the 18th century that tomato sauce was introduced to the breads, however-- at the time, the fruit (actually, it is technically classified as a berry-- amazing, huh?) was considered poisonous. People in the area surrounding Naples, Italy had grown so poor that they resorted to using the "deadly" ingredient.

Of course, pizza didn`t kill anyone-- if it had, this article would have a much different tone. Rather, it became an instant classic. The world`s first pizzeria, Antica Pizzeria Port`Alba, was founded in 1738 in Naples. Originally just a small stand, it expanded into a full restaurant in 1830 and, if you happen to find yourself in Naples any time soon, you can still enjoy a cheesy slice from the world`s first.

The pies first arrived in America at Ellis Island in the late 1800s, in the minds and recipe books of Italian immigrants. Many major American cities, such as New York, Chicago and San Francisco had large Italian populations; as such, each of these places developed its own unique pizza identity.

Most well known, perhaps, is the New York style slice. These pizzas are large, with fairly light amounts of sauce, and a generous portion of mozzarella cheese. These slices are, to some extent, designed to be folded when eaten-- their large size makes them rather difficult to eat in a traditional fashion.

Chicago style pies are about as different from New York as possible. The pizzas are thick, cooked in a "deep dish" pan. Large amounts of sauce are used, and the toppings are piled thickly onto the crust. Perhaps most unusual about Chicago style pizzas is that the ingredients are in a unique order: (from top to bottom) sauce, toppings, cheese, then crust.

In San Francisco, pizzas are defined by their toppings. White pizzas, or pizzas without tomato sauce, are common, often using olive oil in place of marinara. Nearly anything can go onto a Californian pizza-- from fish, to carrots, to sweet fruits, nothing is off limits.

With more than 60,000 pizzerias in America, it`s clear that we love us a pie. More than 3 billion are sold each year! Pepperoni is our favorite topping, while anchovies make the bottom of the list. Maybe it`s the pizza`s simplicity that makes us love it... but it`s probably just the divine taste. So next time you`re hungry, sling for a pizza.

It`s only a phone call away.