Pineapple on Pizza, Sure. Anchovies, No.

Recently, after a long and busy day, my wife and I decided to bring in a pizza. Although my wife makes an incredible pizza, it was one of those nights when we just wanted to sit in front of the television, doing nothing more strenuous than chewing. As we went through the coupons in the coupon drawer in our kitchen, we found a new place in the neighborhood that we thought we could try. Then, calling in the order, we got to the crucial decisions, the toppings. 

“How about anchovies?” I asked. My wife and I grew up with anchovies on our pizza. Me, because I am Italian American. My wife because her Swedish father liked that sort of thing, salty fish and all that. “Nope, don’t have them,” responded the voice over the phone. “You don’t have anchovies? At all? Nowhere in the restaurant?” I thought you needed anchovies for a genuine Caesar salad. You would think an Italian restaurant would at least have them for Caesar salad. “Nope, don’t got ’em anywhere in the place.”

“Do you have pineapple?” I asked, already knowing the answer. “Yeah, sure. You want pineapple on your pizza?” “Never mind,” I said as I hung up. We ordered some barbeque instead. 

On the one hand, as a pizza purist, I feel outraged. On the other, when considering the history of the pizza, I guess I must begrudgingly accept this particular evolutionary step. Pizza has been enjoyed on the Italian peninsula as far back as the Etruscans and Greeks. The 16th century chef Bartolomeo Scappi, whose writings provide great insight into both the papal court and the culinary practices of that era, first wrote of pizza. At the time, it was more like a pie or an open tart than what we know today as pizza. 

The Neapolitan Don Raffaele Esposito is credited with giving birth to the modern pizza 200 years later. In 1889, Queen Margherita was touring Campania with her husband, King Umberto I, king of the newly United Kingdom of Italy. In honor of the queen, Don Esposito constructed the first pizza Margherita, with the national colors of red (tomatoes), white (mozzarella), and green (basil leaves). There were three types of pizza at the time. In addition to pizza Margherita, there was pizza Napoletana and pizza alla marinara. Pizza Napoletana is topped with olive oil, dried oregano or fresh basil, and tomato sauce made with Marzano tomatoes. A pizza alla marinara is a pizza Napolitana with anchovies. This is what is so frustrating about pizzerie abandoning the anchovy pizza. It is one of the three original types. 

With Napoli being the birthplace of modern pizza, it is understandable that the Neapolitans take their pizza very seriously. For a pizza to be considered an authentic Neapolitan pizza, it must meet the strict standards of the AVPN (Association Verace Pizza Neapolitana). These standards specify the type of flour used in the dough, how it is rolled out, and how it is baked. An authentic Neapolitan pizza has a thin crust in the center, approximately .16 inches, and a slightly thicker crust along the edge, anywhere from .39 to .79. Although it may seem that the universal wait time for a pizza is 20 minutes, a true pizza should not take more than just a couple of minutes to cook because of the thin crust. It is traditionally cooked in a wood oven at very high temperatures. First, the dough is baked slightly, then the toppings are added before returning it to the oven to be finished off. 

Despite AVPN’s strict rules of authenticity, pizza evolves, changing over time and place. While the authentic Neapolitan Pizza is round and cooked in a wood oven, the Roman pizza is square and typically cooked in an electric oven. Throughout Italy, the shape, thickness of the dough, and the choice of toppings vary greatly. For example, in addition to more familiar toppings such as mushroom and sausage, you can find in Rome pizza bianca, whose topping is olive oil and cheese. I have even seen pizza topped with French Fries in different parts of Italy. Americans visiting Italy should be warned that pepperoni translates in Italy to sweet peppers. If you want what we call pepperoni here in the States, ask for salame picante.

This brings us back to pineapple pizza. I don’t like it. I don’t even like the idea of it. However, in addition to pineapple pizza, here in the States, you will find such culinary monstrosities as BBQ Chicken, Bacon, Buffalo Chicken, and Philly Cheesesteak. I have even seen, but thankfully not tasted, banana curry pizza, coconut pizza, and pickle pizza. The evolution of pizza is genuinely Darwinian. It will adapt to its environment to survive, changing to fit local tastes and cultures. Many, if not most, of these adaptations will not find universal acceptance. It is highly doubtful that my old neighborhood would embrace Kimchi pizza. 

Despite anchovy pizza being one of the three original types of pizza, perhaps it is nothing more than a regional preference, something preferred by Italians and Italian Americans but lacking appeal to the rest of the world. I am told by many of my American friends that the sweetness of the pineapple mixed with the savoriness of the tomato sauce is a tasty combination. I did not find this to be the case the first time I tried it. Fortunately, my wife makes excellent pizza, much better than anything you can get delivered. My solution to the situation is simple: I only need to ask my wife when I want an anchovy pizza.