Did Pizza Come From China? (Urban Myth or Truth)

There is a tale that pizza actually comes from China. The story goes that Marco Polo, upon returning back to Italy from China, missed scallion pancakes so much that he searched for Italian chefs who would recreate the scallion pancake for him at home. Polo persuaded some chefs to try and after some experimenting it was eventually suggested that cheese be added on top instead of inside the pancake thus creating the first ever pizza.

Marco Polo is known to have travelled extensively through China so the story is at least feasible. Scallion pancakes are a Chinese dish but historical evidence suggests that the origin of pizza was not via this route, In fact pizza already existed in Italy. The first ever recorded use of the word pizza dates back to 997AD which was over 250 years before Marco Polo was even born. This would seem to disprove this particular story but could pizza date back further to origins in the Middle East?

Where Did Pizza Originally Come From?

It is suggested that the the origin of pizza may actually be the Middle East and not china. Flat bread was made in the area thousands of years before Marco Polo was even a twinkling in his mothers eye. These flat breads would be topped with cheese, dates and other toppings. Does not sound very Chinese to me. Also not very Italian. Was this really the pizzas origin?

For me a key aspect of a pizza is the tomato sauce. I really like this part of a pizza so it in my view it is key. Descriptions of the flat bread from the Middle East make no reference to tomato sauce. So is this bread dish a pizza? I would say no but it could have perhaps inspired the creation of the pizza we all know in the 21st century. It is impossible to say for sure.

Equally a scallion pancake does not have a tomato sauce element to it. The key to this question is what constitutes a pizza? Popular opinion would say the following

  • Flat dough/bread base
  • Tomato sauce
  • Cheese topping
  • various other toppings of your choice

The first ever recorded dish using all of the above ingredients comes from Italy and not China. This makes pizza Italian in my book.

Does Spaghetti Come From China?

Whilst we obviously focus on pizza here at www.amazinghomemadepizza.com the question of the origins of spaghetti also revolve around our friend Marco Polo. Again the story goes that Polo returned home from his travels and missed Chinese noodles so asked if Italian chefs could recreate them. Whilst I like these stories sadly the facts point to both spaghetti and pizza coming from Italy.

The Marco Polo legend appears to have been created by a Canadian pasta company in 1920 to promote the eating of pasta in America. Does spaghetti come from China – general consensus is no.

When Did Pizza Come To America?

Pizza is pretty much known throughout the world as an Italian dish but if you ask most people which countries they associate with pizza America comes up a surprisingly high number of times. The origins of pizza as we know and love it today is Italy. So why do people associate pizza with America so much and when did it first arrive there?

Pizza was bought to the US (New York, Chicago and Philadelphia initially) by Italian immigrants in the late 19th century. The opening of the first pizzeria in the USA is the subject of debate but official records record the first license as being granted to Gennaro Lombardi in 1905.

Lombardi’s actually opened in 1897 as a grocery store before applying for its pizzeria licence. As well as groceries it served tomato pies which were wrapped in paper and tied with string. These were served to the local factory workers at lunch time.

Lombardies is still trading today although now located at 32 Spring street. The original grocery store was at 53 Spring Street.

Who Invented The Pizza?

An Italian baker called Raffaele Esposito is most often credited with being the person who invented the pizza as we know it today. The story goes that King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy were visiting Naples and bored of the usual pizza fare of the time (a sort of flat bread topped with tomato) requested some different pizzas

Raffaele made three different pizzas for them with various toppings with cheese being the game changing topping to bring pizza closer to what we know and love today. When asked which one did she like she replied the one that shared its colors with with the Italian flag, green (basil), white (mozzarella) and red (tomatoes). Raffaele named it the Margherita in her honour. Thus the Margherita pizza was born and can still be ordered today in thousands of pizzerias around the world.


The origin of pizza as we can see see is down to some conjecture. Its evolved over time from a simple bread baked flat from the middle east into one topped with tomatoes and eventually cheese to become the dish we all know and love today.

You could therefore argue that the pizza origin is from multiple locations and one that has evolved over many many years.. Flat breads from the middle east, tomatoes from the Americas, mozzarella from Italy. None of these areas feature a Chinese food or a Chinese dish.

A great deal of course comes down to how you define a pizza. We asked a random 100 people to tells us what a pizza was. What mas it made of. Whilst some mentioned various toppings like pepperoni or pineapple every single one included dough, tomato (usually expressed as tomato sauce) and cheese. No matter how you like your pizza I would argue that a pizza needs to be made with at least these three ingredients or its just not a pizza. Not for me anyway.

Looking back through recorded history this would put it in a straight competition between the Middle East and Italy. China does not even come into the equation until much later with our friend Marco Polo.

China has many a fantastic dish but pizza coming from China is a myth.

Further Reading

Scallion Pancake – a Chinese dish. Clearly from this description it is not a pizza

Margherita Pizza – interesting article about Queen Margherita and her connection with the Margherita pizza

origins pizza – article here about the general consensus of where pizza comes from. Goes into a lot more detail about the Middle Eastern flat breads we mentioned above

What is a pizza -as we said above a lot depends on what your definition of a pizza is. This article pretty much covers it in my opinion.

Recent Content