Was Pizza Invented in Mexico?Friday, January 10th, 2014
On one besotted night during my last visit to Oaxaca, the mezcal distiller Alex, who was among my company, made the ludicrous claim (with complete earnestness) that Mexicans invented pizza. His logic was this: the pizza is just a bastardization of the tlayuda, the thin, crispy masa “flatbread” that is a staple of the Oaxacan diet.
According to Alex, many Italians came across the water to fight alongside Mexican rebels during their war for independence from the Napoleonic French government that had decided that Mexico was part of its empire during the 1860’s. The ragtag Mexican Republican army aided by these Italian compatriots waged a guerilla war against the well-equipped French army, carrying tlayudas as a source of food. By nature, since they are dry, tlayudas have a long shelf life, the Oaxacan equivalent of the hard tack that sailors of that era used for sustenance during long voyages at sea. The Italian soldiers were so enamored with the tlayuda, that after the war, they brought them home with them to Italy, ultimately morphing into the pizza that the whole world knows and loves.
Of course I called bullsh*t on this story. Nonetheless, I often have difficulty describing a tlayuda to the uninitiated. I suppose the most accurate description is that it is like a Mexican pizza, but with the monstrosities that Taco Bell has trotted out in the past with that name, I am hesitant to describe it in such words.
While in Oaxaca most often tlayudas will be simply topped with beans, shredded cabbage, queso Oaxaca and tomatoes, the version that we currently have on the menu is firmly rooted in Northern California. It is smeared with a black bean puree, and puya chile salsa, melted queso Oaxaca, and lacinato kale that is stewed down with olive oil, garlic, a few capers, and spiced with toasted arbol chiles. A dusting of queso fresco finishes the dish. In my opinion, it’s a much more delicious way to get your daily dose of kale than via smoothie.
Now, did anyone ever tell you about how matzo balls were invented in Zacatecas?