‘Make Mine A Margherita’: The Battle For The British Pizza

This is ‘National Pizza Week’in the UK’.  It seems that from Friday 16th November until breakfast on Monday 19th, we are not supposed to eat anything else. You might think that, considering all the takeaways and Italian restaurants in Britain’s high streets plus the frozen & chilled pizzas available in our local supermarkets, this particular product doesn’t really need any extra publicity.  The Pizza, Pasta & Italian Food Association (PAPA), the trade association founded in1977, disagrees. Their objective (mainly through the media) is to increase ‘pizza awareness’ and persuade us to ‘indulge ourselves’, especially this weekend.  They want us to celebrate pizza as ‘a way of life. ’ There’s even a ‘pizza auction’ on e-bay to raise funds for cataract operations in Nepal.  Last year, an Italian lawyer paid £2,150 for a pizza to be flown from Glasgow to his wife in Rome.

A Government Minister recently claimed that ‘Chicken Tikka Massala’ had displaced ‘Fish & Chips’ as Britain’s national dish.  In fact, we consume more sandwiches than anything else: 11 billion every year, at work, at home or at the airport.  The UK pizza market is a long way behind at 1.8 billion.  In the USA, they eat rather more:  350  slices every second, preferably with a pepperoni topping. The Italians, of course, are adamant that the first ‘modern pizza’ was created (1889) in Naples by Don Rafaele Esposito.  It consisted of tomatoes ,mozzarella cheese and basil (the red, white & green colours of the Italian flag) and was delivered to Queen Margherita in her castle.  That’s how it got its name.  The only other ‘true pizza’ (according to the Neopolitans) is the ‘Marinara’. This has tomato, oregano, garlic, olive oil and basil (but no seafood).  It’s traditionally what their fishermen eat when they return from the sea.

The largest pizza (so far) has been produced in Johannesburg, South Africa:  37.4 meters in diameter.  The furthest delivery: 10.532 miles from a Domino’s outlet in London to Melbourne,  Australia.  For a really lavish night out you can order a ‘Luxury Pizza’ (caviar, chives, fresh lobster and creme fraiche) at New York’s Nino’s Bellissima restaurant for $125,000 a slice.

Different countries have adapted the pizza according to their own tastes or religious requirements.  The Hawaiians prefer fruit, the French cheese, the Japanese fish, the Indians spices, the Mexicans sour cream & beans, and the Malaysians turkey or chicken.  PAPA encourages British retailers to keep up with the global competition  and develop new ‘pizza concepts’. At their Industry Awards 2007 ceremony in London on November 13th, the winner of the ‘Pizza Designer of the Year’ and ‘Super Tops’ categories was not an Italian but a Venezuelan,  Brendon Colmenares,  from Basilico in Fulham.

Innovation is essential, in PAPA’s view, but not only because of the trend towards ‘healthier eating’. The cost of  raw materials such as milk, wheat and olive oil is rising fast, particularly due to the huge demand from China.  Flour prices are rocketing and cattle feed has become more expensive.  All this indicates that the era of cheap food  – whether pizzas or anything else –  is over. The big chains such as Pizza Hut, Pizza Express, Papa John’s and Domino’s will no doubt adapt,  but the smaller outlets will struggle to continue with their ‘2 for 1’ special offers. Until then , how about a ‘Capricciosa’?  Or even a ‘Caprino e Pomodorino’?

Filed under: Society | Posted on November 1st, 2007 by Colin D Gordon

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