When you say ‘pizza’, a lot of Aussies probably thinks of the piping hot circles that gets delivered to our doors by bored teenagers on their ‘P’ plates. Tasty enough, but when you’ve been eating it for decades, it can get pretty samey. And when it gets lukewarm, as it so often is when it’s travelled from the restaurant, all the flavours just blend into one bland meld of dough, semi-solid mozzarella cheese and napoletana sauce.
Not that there’s anything wrong with napoletana sauce, of course – as I’ve written before, one of my favourite pizzas is the marinara, which has little else on it. (No, there’s no seafood – follow the link to find out why.)
In recent years, Neapolitan-style pizza has been taking over the world. More and more pizzerias are serving that wonderful yeasty dough full of air bubbles and with the telltale slight charring on the crust. On a recent trip to Japan, I was bemused to discover that every second restaurant I visited had a passable Margherita on the menu.
Not every restaurant serving up a Napoli-style pizza complies with the strict dictates of the official certifying body, but we’re getting to the point where the Margherita is the world’s most common pizza order. It’s Australia’s new supreme – or super supreme, if you will.
I’ve had so many minimalist Margheritas that I’m craving something a bit more interesting. And I don’t mean another one of the ubiquitous Neapolitan combos like prosciutto, rocket and parmesan, as heartily as I recommend it in general.
If you're with me on this, why not seek out one of the following to really mix up your pizza experience?
This is really common in Australia nowadays, but I still remember what a revelation it was when I first sampled ‘Turkish pizza’, at about the same time as Turkish bread swept across the nation’s cafés. Nowadays, many Aussies without Turkish heritage throw around pide terms like ‘sucuklu’ (Turkish sausage’), ‘pastirmali’ (Turkish-style pastrami) and ‘kusbasili’ (diced leg of lamb) with great familiarity, courtesy of much-loved pide restaurants like Surry Hills’ venerable Erciyes. Whether flat or folded, it’s all good.
Chicago deep dish
I’ve often sniggered at how Americans call their pizzas "pies", but I can entirely understand why when I look at the Chicago version, which seems to have been spliced with a quiche. "Deep pan" pizza was a fad when I was a kid, but I've never tasted pizza several inches thick, such as the stuff they serve on the shore of Lake Michigan.
You may be thinking that this sounds like a perfect opportunity for a niche diner - and it turns out you're right. A few months ago, a mafioso-themed joint called Johnny Fontane’s opened in the hip Sydney suburb of Darlinghurst. Their menu includes the ‘Capone’, which they describe as “the original Chicago-inspired recipe,” with “pork and veal meatballs, herbs, mozzarella cheese”. It feeds 2-4 people, apparently, and sounds incredibly filling. Perfect for a freezing Chicago winter – and maybe Australia, if you fancy something different?
I still remember the first time I sampled pizza in Italy, back in primary school. We were visiting Rome, where my aunt lived, and visited a neighbourhood hole in the wall in the Campo de Fiori, around the corner from her apartment. There was a huge glass cabinet full of massive sheets of pizza, and no seats whatsoever.
I couldn’t believe how simple the flavours were – none of the options had more than one of two toppings, and some didn’t even have tomato sauce. (I now know this as ‘pizza bianca’.) Among others, they had slices with were varieties with salami, asparagus and potato. They cut me a huge square slice served on a sheet of wax paper, and I ate it on the street. Just delicious, and quite unlike the topping-crammed stuff I’d grown up eating.
A different way to pizza: Roman pizza with eggplant parmigiana
Australia has ‘pizza by the slice’ joints, like the brilliantly-named Pizza Pizza Pizza in Melbourne’s CBD, or Sydney’s late-night institution Frankie’s, but they tend to be influenced by New York-style slices, which are also quite minimalist but a great deal cheesier, as a rule – I’ve never seen a pizzeria that does it the Roman way. Come on, hipster entrepreneurs – get on it! (Or if I’ve missed a great Roman-style pizza, readers, let me know.)
Japan’s rough equivalent of pizza, in soul if not form, with flavours all its own, okonomiyaki have a few different varieties from Kansai (around Osaka and Kyoto) and Hiroshima. They’re wheat pancakes – unusually in rice-mad Japan – where the batter’s mixed in (or layered, in the Hiroshima version) with meat, seafood, vegetables, mochi and cheese, among other things, then topped with flakes of bonito and seaweed, and a sauce that’s somewhere between barbecue and Worcestershire.
Plus, as with so much contemporary Japanese food, there’s mayonnaise. Hard to explain, and even photos won’t give much of a sense of the flavour – but done well, they’re utterly delicious. You’d never mistake them for pizza, but they’ve got plenty in common with Italy’s world-conquering dish.
Look, this will seem very daggy, but I used to love those pizzas in the 1990s with all the wacky toppings. Pesto chicken, Peking duck, roast lamb. I know they’re not italian – if anything, they’re attributed to Wolfgang Puck’s Spago in California – but done well, they were delicious. Chains like Gourmet Pizza Kitchen aren’t as ubiquitous as they once were, but unusual toppings are still on offer at many a local pizzeria across Australia.
Love pizza? Don't miss The Pizza Show, starting Tuesday October 3 8.30pm on SBS VICELAND.