A versatile canvas for chefs, the pizza’s constant evolution guarantees the dish an eternal spot on the menu. Originally a dish for Naples’ poor, it took more than a couple of centuries for the pizza to gain acceptance in respectable kitchens.
In fact it wasn’t until the early 20th century that American tourists started exploring the poorer Neapolitan areas in search of the local speciality they had been introduced to by Italian immigrants that Italian restaurateurs finally embraced. But now, celebrated as one of Italy’s national dishes, the pizza has even spawned a ‘True Neapolitan Pizza Association Pizza Association’, which lays down not just specifications such as the diameter, thickness and ingredients of a true Neapolitan pizza, but also the tools and method to prepare it.
So we wonder what the association would think of Mumbai’s interpretations, no longer the street-style packaged bread slathered with masala tomato sauce and vegetables but the avant-garde versions at the city’s top restaurants, some of which bear scant resemblance to their Italian inspiration.
At Pa Pa Ya, Jiggs Kalra’s Asian restaurant at the Palladium, for instance, you can order a delicious tuna pizza, which, believe it or not, is prepared without bread, tomatoes or cheese.
If it looks like pizza
Chef Sahil Singh explains, “Our pizza is prepared with an emphasis on Asian flavours.” The dish he speaks of is a cold appetizer constructed by layering raw tuna over a tortilla base and drizzling this with eel sauce (Rs 750). “The concept of our restaurant doesn’t leave room for a traditional pizza,” he says. Singh doesn’t believe the Italian-style or American-style pizza is on its way out. “Every dish has its own charm. Ingenious chefs will always find some way to reinvent classics like the pizza and the burger and refresh their appeal.”
Indigo Deli’s Chef Jaideep Mukherjee, however, doesn’t believe a face-lift is necessary.”The old classic hasn’t lost its flavour,” he says, “The thin crust pizza is still a favourite. We sell anywhere between 70 to 200 on busy days.” The deli, where pizzas are priced Rs 545 onwards, does offer variants though, all prepared with their signature thin crust. Favourites here include the Four-Cheese Pizza, Creamed Spinach, Roasted Mushroom and Smoked Scarmoza Pizza, Smoked Three-Peppers Pizza whose toppings include Bhavnagari chillies, but the main attraction these days is the Deli Carbonara (Rs 765), a pizza topped with pasta sauce.
Quintessential comfort food
Describing it as, “a perenni al favourite, a great party snack, a popular selection for large events and just a great dish to share over drinks,” restaurateur Farrokh Khambata says his Nariman Point restaurant, Amadeus sells over 3500 Cocas (Spanish pizzas) a month (priced between Rs 550 and Rs 950). It’s newest variant is the Truffle and Kodai Camembert Coca.Here, 9 x 5 inch rectangular pizzas (sorry, “Cocas”) are prepared with Farina flour, specially imported from Spain, which, says Khambata, “has a very unique earthy flavour that I love.”
Ankit Anand, owner of Juhu’s fortnight-old Fable even offers the “soul food that’s favoured by six to 60 year olds”. He also serves a `breakfast pizza’ for Rs 575. “It has sausages, smoked ham, bacon and potato topped with fried eggs.” But, the mega treat on the menu here is the Five Pig Calzone (Rs 695), a lipsmacking wood-fired folded pizza prepared with a combination of mozzarella and ricotta. The recipe boasts pepperoni, ham, sausages, bacon, chorizo, mushrooms and caramelised onions.
Make it your own
Though he’s famous for his bold culinary innovations, Irfan Pabaney, chef and co-owner, Sassy Spoon is reluctant to list the flatbread they offer as a “pizza.” “I don’t want to call it pizza because we don’t make a fresh base,” he says, “We use a pre-made base, created as per my specifications so that it will turn out crunchy. It’s a recipe we perfected after eight trials.”
Justifying the deviation, Pabaney says, “You have to define what you want to serve in your restaurant. It should lend itself to who you are and to the character of the place.” At Eddies Bistro in Bandra, this quest to create an individual style statement with the menu has translated into pinwheel pizzas (Rs 260) served with tomato jam and in-house aioli. “When we first opened two years ago, we didn’t have pizzas on the menu because I believe if you want to run a pizza house, you should focus on just that and specialise in it,” says head chef and partner, Nishant Mitra. “But, people kept asking for pizza and I didn’t enjoy disappointing them so we finally caved in and decided to present it as an appetiser in a way that harmonises with the restaurant’s identity.”
Also on the menu are flatbreads topped with artichoke and smoked scarmoza (Rs 240) and pulled lamb, feta and mint (Rs 270).
Pabaney, on the other hand, overhauled the topping of the flatbread (generous 8-slice-portions cost onwards from Rs 455). “We offer one version with three types of vegetables, another with tomato sauce and eggplant caponata where the eggplant is cooked in balsamic reduction so it’s mildly sweet. This is topped with cheese and a drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar.” Sassy Spoon also offers a delicious creamy spinach and mushroom flatbread topped with arugula and goat cheese, and a barbecued chicken flatbread that’s a favourite with regulars.
D0 it right
“Growing up in the US, pizza’s your best friend,” says Alex Sanchez, Executive Chef, The Table whose decision to leave the dish off his menu was rooted in a different sensibility. “Firstly, I wouldn’t put pizza in the same category as snack food,” he says, “And for a restaurant of our calibre, given what we’re trying to achieve, I would want to serve nothing less than the best pizza. But, also, maybe because I’m a perfectionist…If I do something I want to do it the right way and whether it’s Neapolitan pizza or the Chicago-style deep dish pizza, or any other kind, you have to have the right oven, the proper mozzarella, the proper tomatoes, the right flour and more importantly the wood-fired tiled oven. When I came here, the kitchen was already outfitted so we didn’t really have the luxury of putting that in.”
With a worldwide reputation for turning out hand-rolled pizzas par excellence and with as many as 15 varieties on their menu (Rs 500 onwards), the right equipment was the top priority at the Kala Ghoda branch of New York’s Italian restaurant Serafina. “Our lava stone oven lends the pie an inimitable rustic flavour,” says Chef Rahul Kulkarni who lists the Truffle Pizza (a 12-inch pie costs Rs 1,700) and the for India-only barbecue Chicken Pizza as their hot test sellers.
For all these varia tions though, the Margherita hasn’t lost its appeal, the chefs concur.
“It’s comfort food, just like good, old-fashioned dal rice,” says Khambata, “Stay off it for enough time and you actually start to crave it.”