What came first, the pizza or the pie? Well, we all know some basic history of pizza, like that it came from the Mediterranean region and was popularized in the 1800s. But many of us still wonder why pizza is called pie.
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The most obvious connection is the shape, but that is about it. When you hear the word pie in the U.S., it usually means sweet fruit in a pastry crust. Pie symbolizes wholesome goodness; apple pie is still considered a quintessential American dessert.
But it is interesting that we use the same word for savory pizza. We were curious about this connection and how it came about, so we started to do some digging, and here is what we learned.
History of Pizza
The first recorded pizza was basically some unleavened dough thrown against a hot rock and eaten with herbs, oil, and wild mushrooms. Persian soldiers in the 5th century B.C. were the first to do this and often referred to eating their plates as the dough was seen as type of plate.
Of course, this rudimentary pizza was not even close to resembling a pizza or a pie. Later as fresh mozzarella was introduced to Italy, thanks to the Arabs bringing water buffalo, the idea of pizza was getting closer but still hadn’t been developed.
You might think that when the tomatoes came to Europe via the New World, aka Mexico and South America, that pizza would have come together. But it took another few hundred years to put the simple dough, creamy mozzarella, and bright red tomatoes together to create a pizza.
In the early 1800s, all of these things came together in Naples, and the first pizza was created. Back then, they were more like hand pies and eaten by the working class as cheap filling food to eat on the go.
The calzone style was more popular than the slice because you could hold it in one hand. Gradually the upper class started catching on, and they preferred to eat round and then sliced into pieces.
Of course, In Naples, pizza was never referred to as pie. It was and still is pizza. In the Italian language, pizza does not mean pie; pizza means pizza. And in most languages, pizza just translates directly to pizza.
So that leaves us with the question, where does the word “pie” come from?
Why is Pizza Called Pie?
Most food historians agree that pizza and pie were connected when Italian immigrants came to the U.S. They brought their simple recipe of dough, sauce, and cheese.
These early versions of pizza were considered immigrant food and not really accepted or eaten outside of the Italian immigrant community. Without the words for the dish, the simple yet descriptive term tomato pie was used to describe it.
And later, because there was no other word for it and pizza was round and resembled pie, it caught on, especially where there was a large immigrant population.
These early tomato pie pizzas were simple, cheap, and filling. But American tastebuds still considered this an immigrant food, and pizza wasn’t embraced outside of Italian immigrant communities for many years.
In 1905, the first pizzeria was born in the back of a grocery store. Store owner Gennaro Lombardi opened the pizzeria in New York City, where he sold slices to working-class Italian immigrants. These tomato pies were popular in the community but not outside of it.
Later, during the Second World War, young soldiers stationed in Italy developed a taste for these tomate pies, and when they returned stateside, they were craving all of the incredible cuisine they encountered during their time stationed in Italy.
This is where pizza and pie became synonyms.
More pizzerias opened, creating the hunger for pizza all over the U.S. And as word spread about the savory dish, pop culture stepped in as a super-connector to bring pizza pie to the mainstream.
The lyrics to the song are where the mainstream was introduced to the phrase pizza pie:
When the moon hits your eye
Like a big pizza pie, that’s amore
Whether pizza lovers were calling it pie before this song is unknown, but we do know that after this popular song, the phrase was sealed as a popular slang for pizza. And it stuck because of the double p sound and the fact that alliteration is fun; the rest is history.
Nowadays, calling pizza pie is considered slang or a regional term, and it coincides with parts of the U.S. where Italian immigrants first began settling. It is more common on the East Coast to hear pizza pie, but it’s not a completely unknown term in other parts of the US, but it may not be widely used.
Language is funny that way, there are so many slang terms and idioms that many people can understand from their parents, grandparents, or pop culture, but these terms may not be in their own repertoire of words.
Language is fluid and changes through time, and while you may not hear pizza pie regularly or use it yourself, you will definitely know the term. And now you even know where it came from.
Other Types of Savory Pies
While all the credit for pizza goes to Italy for transforming that unleveled dough cooked on a flat rock into a worldwide food beloved by many, there are other types of pies across cultures that also use the term pie. Most don’t resemble pizza at all; instead, they look more like a savory version of America’s fruit pies.
- American chicken pot pie
- Australian meat pies
- British sausage roll
- Spanish pastelillos
- Fatayer Middle Eastern meat pie
- Mexican empanadas
- Jian Bing 煎饼 or Rou Bing 肉饼, Chinese Meat pie
- Lihapiirakka Finnish meat pie
- French quiche
We don’t know about you, but Italian pizza pie is still our favorite type of pie.
Do you call it pizza pie? What is your favorite type of pizza pie?