Australia’s Love Affair with Pizza
Italians have arguably made more of an impact on Australia’s culinary scene than any other culture, introducing us to coffee, pasta, garlic, and olive oil, to name but a few. And while spag bol might be a weekly staple at the family dinner table, Australia’s all-consuming obsession with pizza is undeniable.
Pizza 101: A Quick History Lesson
Born in the Italian waterfront city of Naples, pizza started as a humble slice of flatbread covered in olive oil, cheese, garlic, and tomatoes. Sold by street vendors, it was was a quick meal for the city’s masses of poor workers in need of an inexpensive feed.
Fun fact: tomatoes were brought back from the Americas in the 16th century, and were originally thought to be poisonous, or were simply used as decoration. In fact, they were nicknamed “poison apples”, as many aristocrats died after consuming the vegetable. In reality, it was the pewter plates on which the tomatoes were served, and rather ironically, the poor were spared the same fate, as they ate their meals off wooden plates, if any.
When King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy visited Naples in 1889, they were said to be bored with their steady diet of French haute cuisine. So they commissioned a Neapolitan pizza maker to create several meals in honour of their visit.
Queen Margherita’s favourite dish was the ‘Pizza Mozzarella’. Garnished with green basil, red tomatoes and soft white cheese — a combination that represented the colours of the Italian flag — the pizza became known as the Margherita, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Pizza in the Great Southern Land
Spurred by the Victorian gold rush of the 1850s, and Italy’s economic crisis of the 1890s, thousands of Italians immigrated to the distant shores of Australia. By the 1920s, pizza was beginning to make its mark on the Aussie food scene.
With this rapid influx of new cultures and flavours, Australia’s national diet began to change. Many Aussies had never used garlic, nor had they ever seen a zucchini, an eggplant or even an artichoke.
However, it wasn’t until a number of years later, in the immediate aftermath of WWII when Australia saw a second wave of Italian mass migration, that the country’s first known pizzeria opened in Melbourne.
Located on Lygon Street in Carlton (unofficially known as Little Italy), Toto’s Pizza House was established in 1961. The trattoria remains in the same location today and has since developed into a small chain of pizzerias. (Order from Toto’s here!)
The Italian Influence
Italian food, and particularly pizza, has become an integral part of Australian cuisine and food culture. In fact, our consumption of pizza per capita rivals that of Italy (!), with suburban takeaway pizza joints becoming a staple in the Australian culinary landscape. And we’re not alone in our appreciation of a classic pie — pizza is the most popular food in the world.
Minimalist pizza, which embraces the “less is more approach”, is widely accepted as being more authentic, however, most pizza menus constantly evolve with food trends. Traditional pizza, which can be classified as Napolitana, prides itself on freshness and simplicity. The surge in gourmet and specialty pizzas, on the other hand, has ushered in a new era of unique toppings like cheeseburger pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, and kebab pizza.
More importantly, pizza is largely accessible to everyone, catering to pretty much every dietary restriction and food fad — gluten free, no-cheese, gourmet style, budget price, thin crust, stuffed crust, deep dish, fresh, frozen…
To find your go-to preference or your new fave topping (spaghetti meatball pizza?), check here for the best pizza in your area.