Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Pizza - The 100th Anniversary in Brazil

The year 2010 will be remembered for many things, but for many Brazilians, particularly Paulistas (people from the state of São Paulo) and Paulistanos (people from the city of São Paulo) it will be remembered as the 100th anniversary of first Brazilian pizzas. São Paulo is a pizza-mad city unlike any other, and although Brazilians are forced to admit that Italy was the birthplace of pizza, they consider São Paulo the current-day world capital of pizza. And it's hard to argue with them - São Paulo has more than 6,000 pizza establishments, and it's estimated that each day more than 1.4 million (!) pizzas are consumed in the city.

According to a recent article in the food section of the Estado of S. Paulo newspaper, it seems that the first "pizza joint" in São Paulo was called Santa Genoveva, which opened in 1910 in a neighborhood called Brás. It was opened by a Neapolitan immigrant to Brazil, Carmino Corvino, better known to his customers as Dom Carmenielo, who arrived in Brazil in 1897. He spent his first years as a street vendor, selling Neapolitan pizzas by the slice, but when he opened Santa Genoveva in 1910, he was the first in Brazil to bring the pizza indoors, and so it's from that year that Brazilian pizza-lovers count the centennial.

Until the 1950s, pizzas could only be found in the Italian districts of São Paulo, principally Bexiga and Bela Vista. These neighborhoods still have many Italian restaurants and pizza-joints, but now pizzas are ubiquitous in São Paulo. Every year there is an intensely-contested competition in São Paulo to find the best "pizzaiolo" (pizza maker) which terminated on July 10. That day is called "Dia da Pizza" in São Paulo in honor of the beloved dish.

São Paulo-style pizzas can have either thick- or thin-crusts, and the toppings are familiar to North American and European pizza eaters. The one characteristic that makes a pizza more Brazilian than not, I would say, is that there is a smaller amount of tomato sauce than in some other pizzas, and there is always cheese on it, normally mozzarella. Of course, among the more than 6000 restaurants servings pizza in the city, one can find every type of pizza imaginable, including some without cheese. It's just that those are not São Paulo pizzas, they are something else.

Eating pizza is an essential part of any foodlover's visit to the world's 3rd, 4th, or 5th biggest city (depending on your source of information). It's hard to go really wrong, and for the most authentic pizzas, it's best to head to the older Italian neighborhoods, and check out which place has the highest percentage of old-time Italo-Brazilian customers. They know their pizza!

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