When an Italian queen visited Naples in the late 19th century, she was hungry. Luckily, a little-known chef had just perfected a classic dish, and he was eager to share it with his new monarch. And were it not for the queen's special mission and this cook's innovation, one of our most beloved junk food items might look a lot different today... Or at least, so the story goes. Because as with all things throughout time, the truth is much more complicated.
A new king and queen
This story starts in 1868 when Umberto, Prince of Piedmont, married his first cousin, Margherita Teresa Giovanna, Princess of Savoy. At that time, Italy was undergoing a period of momentous change. It officially became a single state — the Kingdom of Italy — in 1861 following the Revolutions of 1848 that struck Europe. The 19th century basically consisted of insurrection, war, and political maneuvering until Italian unification was finally completed in 1871... kind of.
A new attitude
Umberto I became the King of Italy in 1878, with Margherita of Savoy as his queen consort. But Italy was still getting used to being united after years under Austrian rule. According to a biography, though, Queen Margherita worked extensively to make the monarchy popular. When she toured the country with her king, for example, she reportedly tried on local clothes and participated in local culture. She became understandably popular throughout the country. All of this is historical fact. But now things get complicated.
A new kind of food
The popular legend has it that Queen Margherita was bored of eating French food — the prevailing cuisine of the time for royalty. Instead, she apparently wanted to eat something simple — something that the commoners were eating. It was in Naples, however, that her simple request supposedly led to today's favorite junk food. This fateful trip to Naples is said to have happened in 1889.
According to the legend, King Umberto I and — more importantly — Queen Margherita summoned pizzaiolo Raffaele Esposito (from what is now called Pizzeria Brandi) to create some local cuisine for them. No one can quite agree whether the pizzaiolo came to the palace at Capodimonte or whether the queen attended his pizzeria. But whatever the case, as you may have guessed from the queen's name, Esposito apparently decided to make some pizza for his royal guests.