The History of Pizza in India – How Pizza Won The Hearts of Billions


When we think about pizza, our minds tend to gravitate towards places like Italy and the United States – countries with long traditions of Italian immigration and pizza consumption. When we do this, however, we miss the much larger picture of the pizza experience worldwide, particularly in countries like India with billions of people and a huge pizza industry all its own.

India is an enormous country with an equally enormous appetite for pizza. Pizza-like dishes have been present in India since antiquity, perhaps having been introduced by ancient Greek traders and conquerors like Alexander the Great.

In fact, some of pizza’s key ingredients, like mozzarella cheese and basil, have their origins in India as well. India was formally introduced to modern pizza in 1996 when Domino’s opened their first restaurant in the country which was soon followed by several other foreign pizza chains like Pizza Hut and Papa John’s.

Today, pizza has been fully integrated into Indian culinary life and it can be found in large homegrown Indian pizza chains as well as small street food vendors. Indians have even started to make pizza their own by incorporating traditional Indian cooking methods, ingredients and flavors.

Let’s bring India’s long, and often ignored, pizza history to light by first going over the country’s ancient connections to pizza’s predecessors, as well as the modern day reinvention of pizza as a uniquely Indian food.

DateKey Moments In Indian Pizza History
8000 BCEFirst evidence of bread making in the Mesopotamia and the Middle East.
2500-1700 BCEIndus valley civilizations begin making bread products from wheat and barley.
2500 BCEEarly evidence of cheese making in the Indus Valley.
c. 800 CEIndian water buffalo are introduced into Italy and eventually used to make the first mozzarella di bufala cheese
c. 1300 CEFirst mention of flat naan style bread making in India
c. 1889 CEFirst “margherita” pizza made in Naples, Italy
c. 1970s-1980s CE“Street pizza” makes appearance in major Indian urban areas
c. 1990sFirst Indian chains like Don Giovanni’s and Nirula’s begin serving American style pizza to the masses
1995 CEDomino’s Pizza and Pizza Hut enter the Indian market and begin to dominate the pizza industry.
PresentIndia is the 2nd largest pizza market in the world with thousands of foreign and domestic pizza restaurants in operation in large and small Indian cities.
Some key moments in Indian pizza history.

Is pizza popular in India

Pizza is an incredibly popular food in India, and for good reason. Pizza fits well with Indian cuisine because flat, leavened breads, often with various toppings added, have been a common and beloved food in India for thousands of years.

In its modern Italian or American forms, pizza has become a hugely popular dish in India, with the pizza industry worth an estimated $15-30 billion in 2019. This puts the estimated value of India’s pizza industry in close proximity to that of the US which has by far the biggest pizza industry world with a value of around $46 billion.

This is a very impressive feat when you consider that the first true pizzeria chains to open in India did so as recently as the late 1990s when Domino’s and Pizza Hut entered the market.

Similar to naan, a flat leavened bread popular in India used to scoop up all kinds of oily foods like cheese and vegetables, pizza is a food that is meant to be eaten with your hands and is often served topped with fresh and tasty ingredients. So, for Indians, the transition from naan to pizza was perhaps even easier than it was for Americans who were not used to eating such foods when it was introduced there in the late 19th century.

When did pizza come to India

Pizza came to India in stages, starting in the 1970s and 1980s in the form of informal street food, then later on foreign and domestic chains began to take over the pizza market in the country.

Domino’s

Pizza-like foods in various forms have been present in India since antiquity, but modern pizza was formally introduced to the subcontinent when Domino’s Pizza opened their first restaurant in New Delhi in 1996.

The company that opened and operated the first Domino’s Pizza chains in India was incorporated in 1995 as Domino’s Pizza India Private Ltd, which changed its name to Jubilant Foodworks Ltd in 2009.

From then on, Domino’s expansion into India proceeded at a very rapid pace. As of 2014, India surpassed the UK to become the second largest market for Domino’s in the world next to the United States. By late 2019, Domino’s owned and operated over 1,325 restaurants in 282 cities in India with more being added each year.

More recently, Domino’s operates an estimated 1,404 restaurants across India making it by far the largest pizza chain in the country.

A Domino’s Pizza location in India.

Pizza Hut

Right on the heels of Domino’s, Pizza Hut entered the Indian market soon after when it opened its first restaurant in Bangalore in 1996, even though Pizza Hut (India) Ltd had been incorporated as early as 1990.

In 2021, Pizza Hut opened its 500th store in Moga, Punjab while announcing plans for “aggressive” expansion throughout India over the next 5 years. This expansion includes plans to expand beyond the major Indian metro areas and into tier-2 and tier-3 cities like Vadodara and Jahnsi as well which indicates the enormous popularity of the brand, and of pizza in general, across India.

A Pizza Hut location in India.

Who introduced pizza in India?

This is a tricky question because pizza was not introduced to India by a particular person, or even a particular pizza chain. Instead, pizza was introduced to India gradually, over the course of centuries, in the various iterations of pizza that occurred throughout its evolution into the food we know today.

Let’s start with the relatively recent past and work our way back into antiquity.

Pizza in India: 1980s – Present

Before Domino’s and Pizza Hut entered the market, pizza was still being eaten across India albeit far less frequently than it is today. A local pizza chain called Don Giovanni’s started serving pizza in the mid 1990s before the big American chains arrived, and even offered a home delivery service when such a thing was virtually unknown in India at the time.

If you lived in New Delhi during the 1990s, you could get your pizza fix at Nirula’s, one of the first Indian fast food chains which specialized in western-style favorites like burgers, milkshakes and, eventually, pizza. This chain of restaurants was extremely popular in many parts of India, as well as nearby countries like Nepal was among the very first to introduce pizza to a generation of Indians. The chain began serving fast-food fare in the 1970s and ventured into the pizza business sometime in the 90s.

As early as the 1980s, however, pizza could still be found in India before foreign and domestic chains took over the industry. Back then, pizza was mostly found in small bakeries and was served in small portions and considered a “snack” instead of the large-portioned full meal we’re familiar with today.

This was the beginning of pizza in India as we know it today, but to learn more about how it became this way we need to go way back, thousands of years in fact, all the way to antiquity and the days of ancient India and larger Mediterranean world.

Who invented pizza in the first place?

Many people know the story of the Italian baker, Raffaele Esposito, who presented a “pizza” to Queen Margherita and King Umberto I in 1889 during their visit to Naples. Esposito topped this pizza with red tomato sauce, white mozzarella cheese and green basil to reflect the colors of the Italian flag. He dubbed this creation a “pizza Margherita” in honor of the Queen and thus pizza as we know it today was “invented”.

Related Post: How Was Pizza Invented?

But the history of pizza goes back much further than Raffaele Esposito in 1889. In fact, we know for certain that similar kinds of pizza had been served by street vendors in Naples for many years prior. More than likely, 1889 holds significance simply by giving this dish its unique name which helped to popularize it with Italian royalty and therefore the rest of southern Italy. Pizza was no doubt being eaten and enjoyed in Naples long before this high-profile event.

To find the true origins of this food that has taken India by storm, we need to go back in time thousands of years before Raffaele Esposito in 1889 and even travel well outside of Italy to find it. The first pitstop on this pizza journey takes us to Greece, but only briefly.

From Pita to Pizza

Pita is a kind of flat leavened bread made from wheat flour that has been made and consumed in the areas surrounding the Mediterranean and the Middle East for thousands of years. In fact, the first evidence of this kind of bread goes back as far as the stone age, or roughly 14,500 years ago according to some estimations.

Related Post: Why Pizza is Called Pie – The Story of American Tomato Pie

This makes the humble pita among the first kinds of breads made during a period when humans were first domesticating wheat and using it in widescale baking and food preparations. It makes sense as well, since flat breads are simple to prepare and easy to carry on long journeys. This is why nomadic Bedouin communities are often attributed for the spread of pita like breads as they brought them along with them from one place to another.

Despite its international origins, there’s a reason why we associate this food with Greece and it has mostly to do with the name. “Pita” (or “pitta” in British English) is a modern Greek word that derives from Byzantine Greek which further derives from ancient Greek. This is important to note as the word would eventually trickle into Latin as the word “picta” which then eventually became the modern Italian word for “pizza”, at least according to many theories.

As centuries passed, these pita breads were used in a variety of different dishes across the culinary cultures of the Mediterranean and Middle East. For some, the pita was used as a kind of utensil to scoop up other foods while for others the pita was topped with various ingredients and eaten whole or in slices.

The connections to modern pizza here are clear.

The Naan Connection

Naan bread bakes stuck the sides of a stone oven.

While the pita was making its rounds across the Mediterranean, other regions of the world were simultaneously developing similar flat, leavened breads. One such example of this is the well known Naan bread which has become a staple of Indian cuisine and is now beloved around the world.

There are mentions of naan like flatbreads throughout ancient Indian writings but it most likely has its origins in the areas occupied by the ancient Harappan civilization located along the Indus River valley from approximately 3300 BCE to 1300 BCE.

The Harrapan are among the earliest known civilizations in the world and one of the first to employ widespread agriculture, so it makes sense that these people would also bake simple flat breads like naan and pita. In fact, Harrapan style homes had kitchen openings from a shared courtyard where large brick fireplaces have been found that would have been perfect for making Naan like breads.

These flat Naan style breads, wherever they originated from, were then spread throughout central Asia and the Indian subcontinent by merchants, travelers and nomadic tribes, similar to the way pita was spread across the Mediterranean world.

How India Helped Invent Modern Pizza

India is not simply a consumer of pizza, it’s an integral part of the global system of agriculture and trade that invented it. Just like anything else, the value of pizza comes from the sum of its parts – and in this case, those parts are the ingredients used to make it. Several of the ingredients used to make pizza have their origins in India.

Origin of basil

Basil is perhaps one of the quintessential elements of modern Italian cuisine, and its iconic green leaves have made an appearance on pizza as long as anyone can remember. But while basil is not considered a native species all across the Mediterranean, this wasn’t always the case.

Like many herbs and spices that are commonplace today, Europe was among the last places to acquire a taste for them. Basil is no exception to this and was all but unknown in Europe while it was revered in India for thousands of years.

Basil has been grown and cultivated in India for at least 5000 years, or since approximately the year 3000 BCE. In fact, basil is known in Hindu culture as a “sacred plant” and is seen as an herbal manifestation of Tulsi, a Hindu goddess. For this reason, basil can often be founded planted in front of Hindu houses and temples.

While there is some evidence that basil may have originated further east, there is little doubt that the basil we know and love today came from India. Basil was soon brought back to Europe (some suppose by Alexander the Great himself) where it became known the a “royal” herb. The word basil itself comes from Greek and means royal, and it’s where we get the modern word for basilica as well.

It’s not completely clear when basil made its way into mainstream Italian cooking but there is evidence as far back as the 14th century describing a pot of basil in Giovanni Boccaccio’s novella Decameron.

By the 16th century, basil was widely used in Italian cooking and made its way onto the pizza margherita of Naples in at least the 19th century. From then on, these bright green Indian herbs had cemented their place in pizza history.

Origin of mozzarella cheese

Cheese is something that is much more associated with Europe than India, but the origins of mozzarella cheese is actually in India.

Unlike today, where most mozzarella is made from cow’s milk, the traditional style of mozzarella was always made from the milk of water buffalos. Water buffalos are now considered a native species to Europe and Italy but they almost certainly originated in India.

An Italian water buffalo.

It’s unclear exactly when and how water buffalo made it all the way from India to Italy but they didn’t do so on their own. One compelling theory suggests water buffalo were brought to Italy by invading northern Europeans who themselves had acquired them from India. Other theories contend that water buffalo were brought into Italy from Mesopotamia by returning crusaders in the 6th or 7th centuries.

The main advantage to using water buffalo’s for cheese production is that it requires much less milk for an equal amount of cheese compared to cow’s milk due to its higher fat and protein content. Cheese made from water buffalo milk is also higher in calcium and lower in cholesterol compared to cheese produced from cow’s milk.

From here, Italian cheese producers began using water buffalo to create the predecessors of what we now know as mozzarella cheese and a key step was made towards the invention of the modern pizza.

Paneer is a native Indian cheese very similar to Mozzarella.

Millennials Love Pizza

One of the major factors affecting the popularity of pizza in India is millennials. Just like their American and European counterparts, Indian millennials love pizza.

Today, millennials represent about 23% of the world’s population. In India, however, millennials represent a staggering 34% of the population, which helps to explain in no small part why foods like pizza have risen so quickly in popularity.

Millennials are propelling the Indian pizza industry to new heights.

Indian millennials, just like millennials elsewhere, are much more likely to seek out and enjoy foods like pizza than older generations. Millennials are also more like to adopt new technological innovations, like food service and delivery apps, which has given way to the enormous popularity of western pizza chains like Domino’s and Pizza Hut that rely heavily on online ordering systems.

However, unlike millennials elsewhere, Indian millennials are much more likely to be the main income earners in their households. This gives young Indians a unique role as the primary consumers of the country and therefore the most trendsetting demographic. This is reflected by pizza’s atmospheric rise to become one of the most popular foods in India.

The Creation of Indian Pizza

India has not simply imported the tastes and flavors of western style pizza, rather they have made pizza something all their own. Pizza in India is known for it’s unique toppings and flavor sensibilities, many of which are almost entirely unknown in other parts of the world.

Some of the most popular pizza toppings in India include:

  • Maize (or Golden Corn)
  • Paneer cheese
  • Chicken salami
  • Veg momos
  • Veg kabob
  • Chicken Tikka
  • Chicken Malai Tikka
  • Schezwan meatballs
  • Tandoori onion
  • Baby corn on cob
  • Chicken Sausage
  • Spicy Chutney
Indian pizza has a unique look and flavor profile.

Indian pizza menus are typically divided into dietary preferences, which is something that western pizza consumers have probably never seen. For example, at Indian pizza chain Smokin’ Joe’s, their pizza menu is divided into “with pork” and “without pork” as well as Jain and non-Jain.

This has mostly to do with Indian cultural and religious practices that prohibit people of certain beliefs from consuming certain kinds of foods.

India’s Top Pizza Brands

intro

1. Domino’s Pizza

Domino’s is an absolute giant in the Indian pizza space. With a whopping 70% market share, Domino’s has taken full advantage of being the first major global pizza chain to enter the Indian market. As such, Domino’s has probably shaped the tastes and proclivities of young Indian pizza enthusiasts more than any other pizza chain.

As of the last decade, India is Domino’s largest market for pizza outside of the US, overtaking the UK for the top spot. Part of this success is no doubt attributable to Domino’s readiness to adapt to the tastes of Indians by incorporating the country’s food culture including unique Indian toppings and dietary beliefs like vegetarianism and Jainism, etc.

2. Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut is another behemoth on the India pizza scene but still a distant second to Domino’s. Pizza Hut was one of the original pizza chains to enter the Indian market shortly after Domino’s in 1996. Since then, Pizza Hut has grown to become one of the largest pizza chains in India with over 500 stores across the country. Some claim Pizza Hut has up to a 50% share of the pizza market in some regions of India, although this number is debated.

Pizza Hut has big plans to continue expanding into the Indian market beyond the metro areas and into tier 2 and tier 3 cities, so Indians in all regions can expect to have a Pizza Hut opened close to them sometime in the near future.

3. Smokin’ Joe’s Pizza

Before the major global pizza chains like Domino’s and Pizza Hut entered the Indian market, there was Smokin’ Joe’s. Smokin’ Joe’s is a homegrown Indian pizza chain that started in Mumbai in the early 1990s. Today, Smokin’ Joe’s has over 60 stores across India and features an expansive menu with pizza choices and toppings that Indians have come to expect.

Smokin’ Joe’s was created as a result of the merger between two smaller Indian pizza chains before it expanded from Mumbai to New Delhi and into North India. This pizza chain earned quick accolades for its success and quick profitability at a time when even Pizza Hut and Domino’s were still trying to breakeven on their investment.

4. Laziz Pizza

Laziz is a relative newcomer to the pizza game but it makes up for it by being a 100 percent homegrown Indian enterprise specializing in American style pan pizza. Founded in 2013 in Kolhapur, Laziz now operates over 150 locations across India and has plans to open 500 more restaurants across India in the coming years.

5. US Pizza

The “US Pizza” brand has been in operation in India since 1995, before the other major US players entered the market, and now operates over 85 locations across the country. By 2003, US Pizza had partnered up with the Hindustan Pretroleum Corp to open up chain stores in various gas station locations across India.

In more recent years, US Pizza has continued its expansion throughout North and South India with a national TV advertising campaign, an online ordering system and its own mobile app. As India’s appetite for pizza continues to grow, expect to see more and more locations open in the near future.

6. Chicago Pizza

Another American inspired pizza chain, Chicago Pizza is another major pizza chain found across India. Founded in 2008 in New Delhi, the pizza chain now operates over 100 restaurants and has plans to open many more in the near future.

Chicago pizza is known for its “by the slice” business model, which is fairly unique among Indian pizza chains which typically only sell whole pizzas (similar to Domino’s and Pizza Hut in the US).

7. Bon Pizza

Bon Pizza is a new and unique pizza franchise on the Indian pizza scene that’s taking advantage of an increased awareness and appreciation of authentic Italian style pizza. Unlike most other Indian pizza chains, which attempt to emulate American pan pizza like Pizza Hut and Domino’s, Bon Pizza is prepared in the Neapolitan style and cooked in a domed wood-fired pizza oven.

With its emphasis on fresh ingredients and traditional Italian preparation methods, Bon Pizza is quickly gaining popularity with over 40 locations across India after only about 5 years in business. Bon Pizza’s business model is unique as well, with some franchises choosing to be mobile-only food trucks while others have a more standard brick and mortar sit-down restaurant.

With such a large millennial population and their constant search for “authentic” food and products, I see Bon Pizza gaining ground and market share in India over the next several years.

8. “Street” Pizza

“Street” style pizza is probably the most authentically Indian kind of pizza of them all. This kind of pizza has been available on the streets of India long before the big American chains entered the market, at least since the 1980s and probably even earlier.

Indian street pizza is typically small in diameter (around 9-10 inches), very thin and loaded with cheese and other toppings. The pizza is usually prepared on the spot and cooked in a portable gas, wood fired or other kind of makeshift oven. Of course, just like with most other kinds of Indian street food, there is lots of variation in terms of ingredients, style and preparation.

If you live outside of the major metro areas, or tier 2 and tier 3 cities, street pizza is likely to be the only true pizza available. With India’s long tradition of street food, no matter how much the major domestic and foreign chains expand into the market, street food is likely to remain a mainstay for many years to come.

Related Posts:

Related Questions:

Who Invented Pizza Originally?

Pizza was invented as the result of centuries of evolution of various kinds of flat breads combined with different toppings. The first true pizza as we know it today was introduced in 1889 when Queen Margherita visited a pizzeria in Naples. This pizza was made with red tomato sauce, white cheese and green basil to represent the colors of the Italian flag, and thus the “pizza margherita” was born.

How Did Pizza Become Popular In India?

Pizza became popular in India after a slow introduction from western countries throughout the 1970s-1980s which eventually resulted in many domestic and foreign pizza chains opening shop across the country. Presently, India is the 2nd largest market for pizza in the world.

Which Is The First Pizza Company In India?

The first major pizza company to enter the Indian was the American Domino’s Pizza in 1996, however before that several domestic Indian chains served pizza throughout the early 1990s such as Nirula’s and Don Giovanni’s.

What Is The History Of Pizza Globally?

Pizza is an Italian dish that most likely developed in the bakeries and street vendors of Naples during the 18th and 19 centuries. From there, pizza spread around the world along with Italian immigrants to the US, Canada, South America and beyond. This expansion was accelerated after World War 2 when returning soldiers brought pizza back with them to the United States where it was quickly adopted in smaller towns and cities across the country and, later on, the world.

Why Is Pizza Called Pizza?

The word pizza likely is derived from the ancient Greek word for “pita” which was then adopted into Latin as “picta”. From there, it’s theorized that this word evolved over the centuries into the modern word “pizza” we know today, however nothing is definitive as ultimately the origin of the word is unknown.

Why Did Domino’s And Pizza Hut Come To India?

In 1991, India began a process of opening up its economy to increased privatization and foreign investment. A few years later in 1996, Domino’s and Pizza Hut (as well as other foreign owned businesses) came to India to take advantage of an enormous and fast growing market with a huge appetite for pizza.

Who Owns Pizza Hut In India?

Pizza Hut locations operating in India are a subsidiary of Yum! Brands, the same company that owns KFC and Taco Bell among many other restaurants.

Sources:

Domenic

Hi, I'm Domenic, the founder of this website. I've been making pizza at home for over 15 years in regular home ovens and domestic outdoor pizza ovens. My goal is to share that information and experience with you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts