A Slice of the History of Pizza Pie

Luca Varuni is a master at his craft. As head chef and owner of Varuni Napoli he swears by the freshest ingredients and uses traditional Italian techniques to create the best Neapolitan pies. Growing up in Naples, Italy, he was surrounded by Italian chefs and studied under renowned chef Enzo Coccia, head chef of the only Michelin rated pizzeria in the world. After years of experience, he has settled in Atlanta with the goal of showing everyone what real Italian food is supposed to taste like. Inside Varuni Napoli you will notice large family-styled tables as well as conventional seating for smaller parties with the aim of creating an atmosphere best fit for you desired experience. Don’t be afraid to go alone, sitting at the bar gives you a firsthand experience and a direct view of the chefs at work. Since Varuni Napoli is based on the idea of tradition, we must travel back in time to see where these traditions originated to appreciate how pizza has ended up on our dining table.

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Pizza has a complex history. Some suggest this dish started in Greece, others say Egypt, but the pizza we are familiar with today, got its start between the late 1700s and early 1800s in Naples, a city filled with the poor and working class.

The majority of the population required a quick and inexpensive meal during the day, before returning to work. Street vendors sold these flatbreads made with different toppings to satisfy the needs of workers. They were not looking for a rich or high quality meal, just a little something to tide them over during the long work hours.

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A man named Raffaele Esposito, considered by some to be the father of modern pizza, was known all over Naples to serve the most delicious pizzas. After Italy was unified, King Umberto and Queen Margherita visited Italy when Esposito was called on to make different pizzas for this royal couple. During the meal, Queen Margherita expressed her delight with the flatbread covered with mozzarella, basil and tomatoes (to represent the three colors of the Italian flag) so much that they named the pizza after Queen Margherita. After approval from the queen, the popularity of pizza grew and expanded beyond the borders of Italy.

Similar to Queen Margherita, Luca Varuni is also passionate about margherita pizza. He says here in this interview, “You can tell the quality and authenticity of a pizza place by the quality and authenticity of the margherita.” He proudly explains that the cheese, sauce and olive oil for his pizzas are all from the region of Naples.

During the late 19th century, many Europeans moved to the United States of America searching for factory jobs where the Neapolitans started family-run pizzerias. Americans couldn’t get enough of this Italian novelty as it spread quickly all over the country. Once pizza made it’s way to US, Gennaro Lombardi opened the first documented pizzeria in New York City in 1905, which still operates today. Pizza is a simple dish that started as a snack for peasants, and is now devoured by young and old people all over the world. There are hundreds of pizzerias all over the United Sates, but the Gayot Guide recently named Varuni Napoli as one of the top pizzerias in Atlanta for 2015.