Pineapple pizza is delicious. Deal with it.
That’s right, and I’m Italian. This is pure sacrilege to some, but those chunks of sweet, perfectly acidic fruit go great with mozzarella cheese—and when paired with ham on a Hawaiian piazza, the result is pure pizza party. For some, pineapple pizza is the culinary encapsulation of a divided nation. The mere mention of pineapple as a pizza topping is enough to send some people into a frothing frenzy, complete with dripping sweat and tears of rage in their eyes.
But if you were to just accept the fact that there is, in fact, no such thing as a pizza rule book spelling out the “dos” and “don’ts” of pizza artistry—that every pizza-eating citizen of the world should be free to top their pies with anything they please—then maybe your food horizons would be opened a tad wider and perhaps you’d be a bit happier as a result. And yet, according to YouGov, an Internet-based market research and data analytics firm, Americans rank pineapple as one of their least favorite pizza toppings (anchovies are by far the least favored topping), with pepperoni blowing away the competition as the most favored topping.
To me, this is pure lunacy. Hawaiian pizza a construction of utter brilliance. Invented by a Greek-Canadian (naturally), it features the ideal brand of sweetness, with sharp and tart bite, and just the right amount of juiciness. It’s a fruity and savory gift from science, complete with herbaceous tomato sauce and, of course, stretchy mozzarella cheese.
You know what—it’s fine. Don’t love pineapple pizza. Leave all that sweet and salty splendor for me. But the pineapple pizza conundrum conjures a loaded question during this National Pizza Month: What is pizza and can it include ingredients that are not thought of as classically Italian?
Life Of Pie
The origins of pizza do not slide cleanly from the pizza peel. The word itself is thought to have Latin origins, while the food itself could trace its history back to the matzo, of all things. The legend goes that Roman soldiers fostered their love of Jewish matzo while they were stationed in a Roman settlement in Palestine—and with Romans being Romans, decided to put a Roman stamp on the food by topping it with their own choice ingredients. Fast forward to the Middle Ages, and peasants were topping cheap pizza-style dough with olive oil and herbs. Eventually, buffalo mozzarella added a cheesy dimension to the dish, along with at least some rudimentary form of tomato sauce.
In Italy, pizza makers wouldn’t be caught dead using shredded mozzarella. Instead, they held fast to a specific list of central ingredients cooked in intensely hot, wood-fired ovens. One of the first pizzas, the Margherita pie, was invented in Naples and was studded with colorful ingredients meant to mimic the Italian flag—red tomatoes, white cheese and green basil. This Neapolitan-style pizza would spread throughout Italy, with the eclectic regions designing their own pies with local ingredients.
One tactic Italians did not take was to desecrate pizza with handfuls of various meats for what you would call a “meat lover’s pizza.” Such a Frankenstein’s monster of a pizza, though delicious as it may be, would constitute a betrayal of pizza itself in the eyes of the originators. Even the classic pizzeria pizza you know so well would be simply unrecognizable in the Italian homeland. So, tracing history, you learn that the thing you so fervently defend as “the only pizza that matters” would be unrecognizable to the originators of proto-pizza. What does that tell you about your attitude toward pineapple pizza? Nothing but a slice of wrongheaded foolishness, no?
Pizza Has No Ethnicity
In the modern world of pizza making, industrious chefs of any and all backgrounds have the freedom to pound out dough into whatever type of pizza they please. Examples of this are even seen here in the metropolitan/Long Island area. Since opening about a year ago just across the street from Nassau County in Bellerose, Queens, Curry On Pizza (248-49 Jamaica Ave.) has become the destination for pizza lovers looking for something outside of the pizza box. The sleek restaurant takes that pizza you hold so sacred and takes it out of its comfort zone with decidedly Indian ingredients like butter paneer, gobhi masala, chicken tikka, tandoori chicken and more. This isn’t a regular Italian pie with Indian ingredients clumsily dumped on top—this is pizza reinvented with dynamic Indian spices thoughtfully and skillfully imbued into the pizza-making process.
And if you stop in and aren’t sure what to order, go with the Chicken 65—inspired by a legendary southern India fried chicken dish that gets its flavor from red chili powder, ginger garlic, turmeric, cumin, green chilies, and other aromatic spices. The spicy chicken sits atop an airy crust and mozzarella cheese, with green bell peppers, red onion and fresh cilantro. It all comes together in a bite that literally brings two cultures together in peace and harmony. Yes, literally.
Pizza To Go
During this National Pizza Month, forget everything you thought you knew about pizza. Accept that pizza is bound by no preconceived notions of what it should or should not be—and while you’re at it, give pineapple pizza a chance.