Some culinary terms can be quite the point of confusion for a lot of people. I didn’t really understand the difference between ricotta and cottage cheese until I looked it up. Two terms that I see mixed up not infrequently are margarita and margherita. They might sound the sound and could have similar origins (variations on the name “Margaret”), but one has alcohol and the other has cheese.
A margarita is an alcoholic cocktail made with tequila, triple sec and lime juice. It’s usually served on a salt-rimmed glass and while it is traditionally an “on the rocks” kind of drink, many places serve it blended. You’ll also find countless variations involving flavors beyond just lime, like blood orange or strawberry.
By extension, the flavor combination of tequila and lime in particular can sometimes be seen in cooking recipes. If you see a recipe for “margarita chicken,” it probably calls for the chicken to be marinated in tequila and lime or some reasonably close approximation.
Because tequila is the primary ingredient, margaritas tend to be associated with Mexico. You’ll find many a tourist enjoying more than a few margaritas while relaxing at a resort in Cancun, for example. To arrive at a margherita, on the other hand, we need to travel to an entirely different part of the world.
While a margarita uses tequila and lime juice, a margherita pizza is one with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and fresh basil. You’ll find these in abundance while traveling through Italy, oftentimes as the least expensive but most common pizza on the menu. The name comes from Queen Margherita of Savoy. She was the consort to King Umberto I of Italy in the late 19th century.
According to the popular tale, she saw peasants eating this flat bread (pizza) and she wanted to try some. Queen Margherita ordered Chef Rafaelle Esposito to bake her a pizza and the pizza Margherita was born. The tomatoes, cheese and basil represent the red, white and green of the Italian national flag.
This is why it bothers me why some restaurants might list a “margarita pizza” on their menu. Unless its toppings are dominated by tequila and lime flavors inspired by Mexico, they should probably be listing it as a “Margherita” pizza instead.