Pizza of the past
Pizza, in some form or another, dates back thousands of years. In the 6th century BC, Persian soldiers used to bake flatbreads with cheese and dates on top of their battle shields. And in ancient Greece, a flatbread called plakous was eaten, which was flavoured with ingredients like herbs, onion, cheese and garlic. All across the ancient Mediterranean world, there are references to different flatbreads which are still eaten today and could be the early origins of pizza: focaccia, Greek pitta, lepinja in the Balkans and manakish in the Levant.
Ancient pizza in the Aeneid?
There’s an early reference to something resembling pizza in books three and four of the Aeneid, the epic poem written by Virgil (around 19 BC). Celaeno, the Harpy queen from Greek mythology, foretold that the Trojans would not find peace until they ate their tables. In book four, Aeneas and his men eat a meal consisting of round cakes topped with vegetables. They eat the bread (or early form of pizza?) and realise this is what Celaeno had predicted.
Did pizza originate in China?
The origins of pizza are quite complicated, and one popular story is that pizza and pasta originated in China. The legend goes that explorer Marco Polo tried a dish called cong you bing (spring onion pancakes) which at the time was a bread dish filled with cheese and other ingredients. When he was back in Italy, he tried to find a chef who could make the dish and after several failed attempts, eventually suggested putting the ingredients on top of the bread, rather than inside it. Lo and behold, pizza was born. However, historical evidence points to this being a myth.
The first record of the word 'pizza'
The first known record of the word ‘pizza’ was in AD 997. Food culture historian Giuseppe Nocca revealed his findings back in 2015. The reference was discovered on a notarial document written in Latin from Gaeta, a city in southern Italy. The document demanded payment for, "12 pizzas, a pork shoulder, and a pork kidney on Christmas Day, and 12 pizzas and a couple of chickens on Easter Day." It’s not however known what a pizza would have been at this time.
Durian was believed to be from the region of Borneo and Sumatra, they grew wild along the Malay peninsula, and was commonly cultivated in a wide region from India to New Guinea.
400 years ago, it was traded across present-day Myanmar, and was actively cultivated especially in Thailand and South Vietnam.
The earliest known European reference to the durian is the record of Niccolò Da Conti, who travelled to Southeastern Asia in the 15th century. The Portuguese Physician Garcia de Orta also described durians in an article that he published in 1563.
In 1741, the German botanist Georg Eberhard Rumphius published a book, which provide detailed and accurate account of durians for over a century.
During the early stages of its taxonomical study, there was some confusion between durian and the soursop, for both of these species had thorny green fruit. It is also interesting to note the Malay name for the soursop is Durian Belanda, meaning Dutch Durian
In the 18th century, Johann Anton Weinmann considered the durian to belong to Castaneae as its fruit was similar to the horse chestnut.
Durian had also been planted in the Americas but confined to botanical gardens. The first seedlings were sent from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, to Auguste Saint-Arroman of Dominica in 1884.
In southeastern Asia, the durian has been cultivated for centuries at the village level, probably since the late 18th century, and commercially since the mid-20th century.
In My Tropic Isle, Australian author and naturalist Edmund James Banfield tells how, in the early 20th century, a friend in Singapore sent him a durian seed, which he planted and cared for on his tropical island off the north coast of Queensland.
Since the early 1990s, the domestic and international demand for durian in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region has increased significantly, partly due to the increasing affluence of Asia.