Pizza Margherita Has A Connection With This Upper Assam Town
Image Credit: Pizza Margherita

In the world of pizzas, the classic Pizza Margherita reigns supreme. And we all know why. This pizza does not come loaded with tons of toppings, sauces, and herbs. It is minimal, it is what you call basic, but it is just perfect. The tomato-based marinara sauce is aptly complemented by mozzarella cheese and basil leaves bringing just the right amount of freshness to elevate the pizza. The Pizza Margherita also holds a very special place in Italy’s history. Interestingly, the iconic figure it was named after has also inspired the name of this remote, mining town in Assam. Intrigued much? Let’s dig deeper.

Nineteenth-century Italy was a turbulent one. The socialists and republicans revolting against the monarchy were getting widespread support across the country. In the year 1878, Queen Margherita of Savoy was crowned the Queen consort of the Kingdom of Italy. She also took over as the first Lady of Italy. She did plenty of philanthropic works, like instituting Florence’s first library for the blind, establishing many hospitals, and developing schools to emerge as a national sensation. The Italian nationalists championed her as the ultimate hero the nation needed. Many wrote patriotic poetry in her tribute, but there were some who chose rather ‘off-beat’ ways to show their support and love for the flamboyant queen.  

Legend has it that the Queen was once visiting Naples and she sat down to try a special pizza created exclusively for her. One of the chefs, Raffaele Esposito, invented the dish by putting together tomato (red), mozzarella (white) and basil (green) representing the colours of its Italian flag. Until then, the upper-class looked down upon pizza and thought it to be the food of the ‘poor’. And it was indeed an ingenious way to use up all the leftovers. It was a cost-efficient and easy meal. Raffaele was considered the best pizza-maker of his time, so when the Queen arrived at his restaurant, he used the opportunity to impress her. The queen loved the pizza and this pizza was named after the Queen. Another version of the story states that similar toppings were popular at the time, but once Queen Margherita herself wrote a letter of appreciation for the pizza to the pizza-makers after trying it for the first time, who then named the pizza after her.

Queen Margherita was an enigmatic figure for sure, in addition to this pizza she also has a town in Assam named after her. That’s right. Sometime in 1881, Robert Piercy and three Italian engineers, the Paganini brothers, landed in Calcutta and travelled to Dibrugarh. The Italian crew has arrived for the Dibru-Sadiya Railway project, as engineers. One of the chief stakeholders in the project was the engineer, Benjamin Piercy. His brother Robert worked on a railway construction project in Sardinia alongside three of the Paganini brothers, and for the Assam railway project, Benjamin decided to hire the same team.  

Chevalier Roberto Paganini, the elder brother among the Paganini brothers, established quarters for himself and other engineers, in the forests on the banks of the Dihing River around the Makum area, while Benjamin had set up his headquarters in Dibrugarh.  

It is believed that the small, serene hamlet was named ‘Margherita’ by Roberto as a tribute to the reigning queen. From pizzas to villages, there were some rather interesting tributes made to the Queen, don't you think. It is also believed that the settlement was named ‘Margherita’ as a tribute to Roberto and his Italian heritage, especially because it was due to him that there was a train network connecting either side of the river. Wasn’t that some food for thought? Has that made you crave some Margherita Pizza? Here’s a recipe you may love.