The Pizza Issue

In Defense of Pineapple on Pizza

When Marcy Nathan — editor extraordinaire behind Rouses magazine — emailed me this morning, it was two in the afternoon her time, and I had just crawled out of bed. It’s not that I’m lazy (well…) but I am on the other side of the planet, in Tasmania, preparing to leave for an expedition to Antarctica, where I will spend the next few months. We are a week late in departing thanks to severe weather “on the ice,” as experienced expeditioners call it, and I’ve spent that time bumming around the city of Hobart — a quirky place with a great art scene and one of the more serious coffee cultures I’ve ever run across. (Perth, Australia, where I was last week, is another such coffee capital.)

Marcy wanted to know my opinion of pineapple as a pizza topping: What did I think of it? And although in my career I’ve covered war, politics, religion and more, writing about pineapple on pizza was an intimidating assignment. Because people care about the future of this country, but people break beer bottles and threaten strangers when they start talking about what is considered an acceptable pizza topping.

So I ambled down the main thoroughfare near the University of Tasmania and found a coffee shop with both free Wi-Fi and a good heater (it is freezing down here). Reader, as I gawked at the pastry display, with its selections both sweet and savory, at the top, first thing, was a miniature Hawaiian pizza: ham and pineapple on tomato sauce and cheese. It was then that I knew I had to plant my flag proudly: I am stridently pro-pineapple on pizza.

The typical Hawaiian pizza, however, is not how I like it best. The ideal pizza for me is as such: thin crust, extra sauce, extra cheese, pineapple and pepperoni. That is only the start though. The real power of the thing happens when the pizza arrives, and it’s piping hot. It is then that I break out a bottle of Tabasco sauce and liberally drench each slice as I eat it. That, dear reader, is when pineapple is able to shine fully. Because with each salty, tangy bite of a Tabasco-enhanced pepperoni pizza, the pineapple acts as a sort of explosion of sweetness that turns a mere dinner into an out-of-control party in your mouth.

The only culinary analog I can think of is when you go to the movies and buy a giant bucket of popcorn (don’t ruin it with that disgusting fake butter, though I’m not here to judge — well, not your popcorn choices, anyway — I’ll judge the use of ranch dressing on pizzas in a different story in this issue). Before you eat that movie theatre popcorn, it is imperative that you buy one of those family-sized boxes of Peanut M&Ms, pour the entire contents into the bucket, and shake it about until everything is mixed properly. When the lights go down and every handful of movie theater popcorn becomes a mystery, it’s salt-crunch-salt-crunch-salt-crunch deliciousness is sublime — OH MY GOODNESS! WHAT IS THIS SWEET, CHOCOLATE, CANDY-COATED SENSATION?! But I digress…

As for Hawaiian pizza, you need to know one awful truth that perhaps should be discussed, though never in polite company: Hawaiian pizza was born in Canada, invented by a Greek-Canadian named Sam Panopoulos, whose experience making Chinese food led him to experiment.

Does that make Hawaiian pizza a lie? No. The name comes from the brand of pineapples that Panopoulos used when experimenting with his masterpiece. Hawaiian pizza was borne of worldly cultures from the East and West — it is truly the United Nations of pizzas. Panopoulos died in 2017, but his gift to the world endures.

Still, there are those who get so wrapped up in pineapple hate, I have to wonder: What did life do to you? Is it that you hate fruit? Happiness? Normalcy and goodness? I’m sure there are good people who hate pineapple on pizza, but…well, no. There are no good people who hate pineapple on pizza. But those of us who have seen the light must not be unkind to these benighted souls. We must win them one slice at a time (preferably with Tabasco sauce).

As for the qualities of the pizza itself, if you don’t believe me, take the word of the Tasmanian owners of the coffee shop where this is being written. In that case, there were no meat lovers mini pizzas or — and I am gagging even as I type this — barbecue pizzas or veggie pizzas, but a singular pizza world, festooned with pineapple and enjoyed by refined palates all the way on the other side of the world.