1952 Brisbane’s elite introduced to pizza

Photo by Ivan Torres on Unsplash

The true origins of pizza are obscure. Wikipedia says the word ‘pizza’ was first recorded in the 10th century. However, the tomato-topped version we recognise didn’t appear until centuries later when the Spanish introduced the new-world vegetable to Europe. By the late 18th century, the dish had become a speciality of Naples.

By the early 20th century, pizza had emigrated to America. A New York pizzeria, Lombardi’s, opened in 1905 and claims to be the oldest in the USA. It took much longer to arrive in Australia, with the first known pizzeria opening in Adelaide in the late 1950s.

There had been previous mentions in the press. As early as 1861, The Argus in Melbourne included an article titled The Neapolitan Pizza. It described a “favourite Neapolitan delicacy, which is only made and eaten between sunset and two and three in the morning.”

The pizza baker takes a ball of dough, kneads it, and spreads it out with the palm of his hand, giving it about half the thickness of a muffin, then pours over it mozzarella, which is nothing more than rich cream, beaten almost like a cream cheese, then he adds grated cheese, herbs, and tomato, puts the cake – which made after this fashion is termed the pizza – just for five minutes into the oven, and serves it up as hot as possible.

Unlike other foods that migrated to Australia via America, it seems pizza arrived in Australia direct from Italy. It may well have been prepared in the households of Italian immigrants well before making an appearance in restaurants but, in the early 1950s, any newspaper article mentioning the dish still felt the need to explain it. And journos were prone to getting it wrong. Describing a visit by Princess Margaret to Naples in 1949, they reported that her first Italian meal would be “traditional Neapolitan dishes such as pizza (tomato covered with pastry)…”

In August 1952, The Courier-Mail in Brisbane were somewhat confused when they described the dish to be served at a ball hosted by the Italian vice-consul and his wife:

THE luxury Italian liner, M.V. Sydney, will be the setting for a spectacular formal ball to be held on September 24 during the ship’s stay in Brisbane.

It will be a complete Italian evening — from the chianti wine to the savouries and sandwiches. One of the most unusual dishes will be pizza, a Neapolitan dish of savoury fish.

Even the coffee will be brewed in Italian style— and there will be an Italian orchestra playing on deck.

The same year, at an All Nations Fair held in Sydney by Legacy, pizza was on offer at the Italian stall along with a glass of red wine. It was described as “the Italian equivalent of the hamburger and coffee”. According to The Sun’s columnist:

Young Italians going home late from a party call into the little cafes for a pizza napoletana – pie of cheese, anchovy, tomato and pimento, washed down with wine, off you go singing that thing from the opera, something about O Sold Me ‘Ome.

The Australian Women’s Weekly’s earliest recipe for “pizzas” was for a scone sandwich containing savoury mince, onion, tomato and cheese. In 1955, a recipe for something approximating a recognisable pizza won the “best recipe from a man” section of the Weekly‘s cookery competition. But, by 1957, the magazine was publishing a version with a yeast-raised pastry and a tomato sauce topping. Pizza had arrived in Australia.

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