The discovery of coal brought us gold twice: black gold and golden yellow dough topped with fresh tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. On June 23, 1946, the Belgian and Italian governments reached a mutual agreement: for every 200-kilogram bag of coal we sent to Italy, our country received a guest Italian worker. When the Italians discovered after a while that they needed more time to earn generous amounts, women and children – and with them countless recipes for licking your thumbs and fingers – came to our neighborhood.
“The story of Limburg pizza actually begins in the city,” says Rosaria Ciarlo of Missione Cattolica in Genk, the Italian church community. “Here and there were makeshift brick ovens in the gardens that attracted many gourmets just by making a fire. Sometimes this became a small business: 20 francs for a small, round pizza.” The Belgians who lived in the garden areas learned about the Italian specialty in this way before the 1970s.
Agostino Lombardi was the first “new” lemburger to make pizza his profession. “My father passed away in 2018,” says Tania Lombardi, who took over the company after his retirement. “His obituary says ‘the founder of the first pizzeria in the whole of Limburg.’ At least that’s what he’s always been telling us.” Agostino and his wife – himself from the Naples area – started the first Da Fausto (then Neapolitan Pizza) branch on Genkse Stalenstraat. He had no experience making pizza, but of course he knows the unparalleled aromas and flavors of his country, and he came from the family of an authentic Italian baker. “My dad also takes pride in the traditional wood-fired ovens and simple recipes.” In the early 1990s, the company moved to Winterslag. The case is still going.
Tony Napolitano was there too like chicken. The miner’s son moved to Overpelt in the late 1960s for love. “You can count the number of Italians in the area on the one hand,” Tony laughs. “In 1971 I started with a takeaway chip shop, but soon felt the need to try cuisine from my home country. Unlike the wine I brought from my home region, pizza was not immediately appreciated. Even the people of northern Limburg spoke of a “pie with siege” It took years – until the 1980s – for the neighborhood to give in. After a while people stopped talking about “Frituur Tony”, but about “at the Italian”. Meanwhile, Tony is enjoying his well-deserved retirement with pizza (and chips).
Oregano and basil have smelled in the middle of Hasselt since the 1970s thanks to da Mario’s pizza. Sabina Marzo can still vividly remember how she helped her parents’ and uncle’s pizzeria at the Kleine Maastrichterstraat: “When we started in 1974, there was already an Italian restaurant, but there is no real pizzeria yet. In 2010, my family closed the doors for business, But people still talk to us a lot about how they get to know Italian cuisine with us. Stephen Vandepute—who was not mayor at the time—often came here for a calzone.”
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Although we can hardly imagine it now, the golden yellow delicacy is slowly becoming a good alternative to even the golden yellow Belgian fries. According to Valentina Trotta, her grandfather Luigi Zica and Maria Frisa opened the first real pizzeria in Massillian in 1981. “And by ‘real’ I mean that they were baking pizza on beech or oak wood, in a wooden yard, as they learned in Naples. The dough has been proofed. Twice and the peeled tomatoes had come from Italy,” Valentina explains.
Domino’s Avant La Liter
When our hearts were increasingly filled with melted mozzarella during the 1980s, Belgian entrepreneurs also jumped on the bandwagon. Literally, because Roger Mertens and Mia Wanz sold their freshest pizza in a famous truck in Genk and the surrounding area called De Pizzalijn. “The first pizza was delivered by scooter in a warm wooden box that my grandfather had put in by himself,” says grandson Lars Jurgen. Domino’s (after the current pizzeria chain, editor) before the speech Say. Then there was the famous truck. Was the pizza inferior to that of real Italians? Grandfather went to Naples to learn the trade and also worked with real wood furnaces. ”
Can we say with one hundred percent certainty that Da Fausto was really the pioneer in Limburg? No, although many sources indicate its direction. “We asked the question to Radio Internazionale, a radio station with many Italian listeners from Limburg,” says Rosaria Ciarlo of Missione Cattolica. “Da Fausto was referred to by everyone as the first. Although everyone already knows that the story of pizza began in the cities.”
Pizza as we know it today is of Italian origin. In the 17th century, people in Naples moved to poorer parts of the city to eat this peasant dish, says food historian Alberto Grande in an Italian podcast who listened a lot about the cuisine of his homeland. Grande teaches the history of nutrition at the University of Parma. However, the origin of pizza actually lies in the Mediterranean region, where round bread has been baked for thousands of years with toppings. Grandi concludes that pizza is not exclusively Italian.