Pizza: A Global or Regional Food?


Pizza is ubiquitous the world over. Few other gastronomic fares can boast such widespread popularity and lasting appeal, perhaps due to it being relatively cheap and easy to make, tasty, comforting, often seen as a social food, convenient and, above all, versatile.

Originally a cheap street food staple of Italy, today it is a globally recognised taste sensation; enjoyed in restaurants, ordered in as takeaway or home-delivery, purchased from pop-ups, snack stands and gourmet food vans, regularly bought fresh or frozen as part of the weekly shop, and cooked from scratch in homes around the world.

With upwards of 5 billion of these tasty culinary creations consumed worldwide each year, there’s no doubt that pizza has evolved into a genuinely global snacking stalwart. Interestingly, this universally adored concoction is referred to by the word ‘pizza’ in almost every country, allowing language, as well as cultural and generational barriers, to be broken down. The simple fact is the world really does love pizza!

Norway somewhat surprisingly tops the charts for the country that eats the most pizza per capita in the world, whilst Buffalo in New York state is the US city with the most pizzerias, with 17.8 per 100k residents. One of the cheapest pizzas in the world is a simple 7-inch cheese pizza, launched by Domino’s in India in answer to soaring inflation and costing the equivalent of around 48p. At the other end of the scale, the world’s most expensive pizza is served at multi-award-winning Italian restaurant Pierchic in the Madinat Jumeirah Hotel in Dubai and will set you back a staggering $180k. The epitome of pizza luxury, toppings reputedly include 2 ounces of edible gold leaf, Iranian Almas and Beluga caviar steeped in Dom Perignon champagne, Italian white Alba truffles, black winter truffles from Périgord, French foie gras, Iranian almonds, Kashmiri Monga saffron and Japanese matsutake mushrooms, to name but a few – a far cry indeed from pizza’s humble beginnings.

Whilst traditional pizzas – such as tomato & mozzarella Margherita or tomato, garlic, and oregano Marinara – are enduringly popular and still found on most menus, pizza has continually evolved on its journey across the globe, adapting to differing regional ingredients, cultural identities, and local tastes, with innovative and creative twists, quirky topping combinations, and myriad variations in size, shape, crust type, dough recipe, and method of cooking.

It seems that almost every country in the world has its own take on what constitutes the perfect pizza. When American pizza chains first appeared in Japan in the 1970s, they found they needed to adapt to the country’s unique tastes as a way of breaking into the market. If you tuck into a Japanese pizza, you can expect sushi-inspired toppings such as shirako (cod sperm), mentaiko (cod roe), eel, miso, squid ink, natto (fermented soybeans), seaweed, and oysters. Other unusual national variations include shrimp and coconut in Costa Rica, chicken, banana, peanut and curry powder in Sweden, minced mutton, paneer and pickled ginger in India, smoked reindeer in Finland, and the cheese-less fugazza topped with onions in Argentina. Then there’s the fish-laden Russian mockba, named after the capital city Moscow and created with sardines, salmon, mackerel, tuna, fish roe and onions – not for the faint-hearted, this pizza is also traditionally served cold. And, of course, we Brits have been known to stay loyal to our roots with a full English breakfast pizza, complete with black pudding, hash browns and even baked beans. The list goes on…

As well as national variations, however, there are also plenty of regional variations within the countries themselves, each reflecting the diversity of its territory. In the U.S., for example, there’s the hand-tossed, foldable New York style, the deep dish or stuffed crust Chicago style, the rectangular, baked Detroit style and the Miami / Cuban style, where the toppings are pressed down and baked into the dough before being smothered with mozzarella and gouda cheese.

Even in Italy, the birthplace of pizza, there are numerous distinctive provincial variations. The twenty regions that make up the country were not officially united as a nation until 1861, each region still retaining much of its individual identity with its own distinctive array of ingredients, flavours, and recipes.

Traditional Neapolitan or Naples-style pizza from Campania is characterised by its topping of raw tomatoes and sauce-to-cheese ratio (there should always be more sauce than cheese), whilst rectangular Sicilian pizza is typically thicker and doughier than its Neapolitan cousin. Rome, in the province of Lazio, serves up pizza al taglio with a thick focaccia-like base and served in rectangular slices to be eaten as a takeaway dish, and pizza tonda, which comes thin and crispy, due in part to the addition of olive oil to the pizza dough. In the northern region of Liguria, the tomatoes are often swapped out for a green pesto topping, native to this area, whilst Milan, in the Lombardy region, has its own popular version, taking the shape of a mini pizza pocket stuffed with fillings and then fried, known as panzerotti – a bit like what we would call calzone.

In all its varying forms, pizza is undoubtedly a versatile multinational and multicultural dish – successfully spanning the globe with almost unlimited national, regional, and local incarnations. Its adaptability is a testament to our enduring love of what is one of the world’s favourite meals.