The origins of pizza have been discussed time and time again, but most everyone knows that pizza came from Italy. The word pizza itself was first documented in AD 997 in Gaeta and throughout parts of Central and Southern Italy. However, what if the concept of pizza actually came from somewhere else? Did pizza originate in China? One theory suggests it did.
The Chinese Origin of Pizza Theory
When Marco Polo came to China, he encountered a baked scallion pancake known as 葱油馅饼 or scallion pie. Scallion pie features unleavened, flat bread folded with oil and minced scallions. The scallion pancake, unlike regular pancakes, uses dough instead of a batter.
Marco Polo returned to Italy and missed scallion pancakes so he decided to try to find a chef who would be willing to make them for him. He allegedly met a chef from Naples at a dinner party and persuaded him to recreate the dish. The chef attempted to make the dish for several hours without much success. Polo supposedly suggested putting the fillings on top of the dough instead of the inside.
The change made the dish work. When the chef returned to Naples, he added cheese and other ingredients to form what is now known as pizza.
The theory of Chinese scallion pie inspiring pizza is believed to come from Marco Polo’s manuscripts, which could have been misinterpreted.
The Pasta Link
Another theory suggests that pasta also did not originate in Italy, instead, it was brought over from China by… you guessed it… Marco Polo.
Since at least 1100 B.C., Chinese have made pasta from many more kinds of flours than Europeans. Italians trace back the history of pasta to a 4th century BC tomb where a depiction of a knife, a board with a raised edge that resembles a modern pasta board, a flour sack, and a pin that resembles a tool used for shaping tubular pasta is prominent. Still, not everyone is convinced that depiction alone certifies that Italians were actually making pasta.
In The Travels of Marco Polo, there is a passage that mentions his introduction to a plant that could be used to produce flour. The Chinese used a barley-like flour to create pasta-like dishes, including one described as Lagana (sound familiar?).
Long before Marco Polo’s trip, noodles existed in Asia. Archaeologists believe central Asia was the site of some of the first noodles, produced thousands of years ago.
Unfortunately, because the Marco Polo texts no longer exist and are merely passed on by retellings, it’s hard to tell where the truth lies. Did pizza originate in China? Yes and no. The concept was there, but it wasn’t until Italians added tomato and cheese that it became what is now known as pizza.