HomeWorldPineapple pizza is dividing Naples, the birthplace of pizza | CBC News

Pineapple pizza is dividing Naples, the birthplace of pizza | CBC News


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Italy is a land of deep culinary traditions, where anyone worth their salt knows the set of unwritten rules about what, when and how to eat, (preferably with others).

It’s also a country where people are firm and united in their convictions of what not to eat.

For years, the Canadian-invented Hawaiian pizza — featuring pineapple, bacon, ham and mozzarella cheese — topped that list.

That is, until one brave Neapolitan pizzaiolo, or pizza maker, recently introduced his own version, triggering a heated national debate, TV coverage and “taboo breaking” headlines.

“Pineapple pizza has been a revelation for me,” said Gino Sorbillo, perched at a table in one of the three pizzerias in the gritty centre of Naples that carry his family name. (There are another 20 or so throughout Italy and around the world.)

Dressed in minimalist black and bold-framed eyewear, Sorbillo looks more like the head of a Milan fashion house than the third-generation owner of a family-run Neapolitan pizza chain.

Like most Italians, Sorbillo had heard about Hawaiian pizza, though he says he had only a vague notion that it was a Canadian concoction.

“Mostly what I’d heard was it was terrible,” he said.

Gino Sorbillo, the latest generation in the Neapolitan family-owned Sorbillo pizza chain, is on a quest to make new versions of non-Italian pizza recipes to bring them in line with Italian culinary rules. His latest effort is a pineapple pizza. (Megan Williams/CBC)

Perfecting the recipe

A consummate innovator in the kitchen, Sorbillo says curiosity propelled him to determine whether it was the pineapple per se that was the problem on pizza, or the misguided pairing of ham and cheese with the fruit.

For three months, he experimented with different ingredients and ways to prepare the pineapple before settling on the recipe for pizza all’ananas, as it’s called in Italian, now on the menu of the family restaurants throughout Italy.

WATCH | The great pineapple debate: 

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Artist Hyein Lee animates the Hawaiian Pizza origin story as told by its Canadian creator

The Sorbillo version is a “pizza bianca” — a “white pizza” stripped of tomato sauce. The ubiquitous red fruit introduced into Italy from South America in the 16th century, he explains, is a redundant acidic element that clashes with pineapple, as any Italian will tell you.

“You would never add tomatoes to pear and ricotta, which are perfect together on their own,” he said. “Nor would you add tomatoes to figs and prosciutto on focaccia, which would be disgusting.”

The final result of Sorbillo’s kitchen trials is a round pie that glistens with no fewer than three kinds of smoked and seasoned cheese — provola, made from cow’s milk in nearby Agerola, and “micro-shavings” of two cacioricotta cheeses, one from Sardinian goats and the other from buffaloes that graze south of Naples.

Workers make pizzas in an Italian pizzeria.
Pizza makers, known in Italian as Pizzaioli, work in a Sorbillo pizzeria in Naples. Pizzaioli are part of a centuries-old tradition in the ancient city. In 2017, the Neapolitan art of pizza making was included on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. (Megan Williams/CBC)

The pineapple — fresh, not from a can, and sliced in rounds — is twice-baked to produce a buttery hint of burnt sugar and a deep, golden gleam. A drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, a tender scattering of basil leaves, and a sprinkle of black pepper are the finishing flourishes.

Even in appearance, it has little in common with its North American counterpart — a Giorgio Armani flagship store of pineapple pizzas in a world of Walmarts. (The price, though, about $10, is about as Walmart as it gets.)

Tasty or testy? Reactions are split

It’s a version that proved to be a hit with a group of American tourists at a table nearby. 

While they admitted they happily chow down on pineapple pizza doused in barbeque sauce and jalapeno peppers back home, they say the taste-tug between the smoked cheese and baked pineapple was far more nuanced, but just as delicious.

Neapolitan Marco Esposito, sharing a pineapple pie with his girlfriend at another table, was more cautious in his assessment.

“I prefer traditional Italian flavours, but the caramelized pineapple is an excellent compromise,” he conceded, after slipping a cut triangle in his mouth. “But this is really a pizza for socializing, eating together with a group of friends over cocktails or as a sweet snack. Not within the confines of a lunch or dinner.”

WATCH | For better or worse, we owe pineapple pizza to Sam Panopoulos: 

Canadian inventor of Hawaiian pizza dead at 83

Sam Panopoulos, the Canadian restaurateur credited with the sweet — and controversial — idea of putting pineapple on pizza, has died

Out on the street, the manager of Atri Osteria and Pizzeria around the corner from the Sorbillo establishments hands out flyers for his joint — and makes it loud and clear what he thinks of the new tropical kid on the block.  

“Pizza with pineapple you’re never going to find [on my menu]!” shouted Vincenzo. who didn’t want to give his last name. “Because pizza with pineapple sucks!”

He says Sorbillo has invited him to taste the new offering, but he declined.

“I tried Hawaiian pizza when I lived in the States and once was enough.”

A short stroll away, into the working-class Spanish Quarters of Naples, a banner outside Pizzeria Augusteo boasts that it’s ranked No. 2 of all Neapolitan pizzerias on the travel site Trip Advisor.

A man and a woman sit at a table in a small restaurant eating pizza.
Ileana and Michele Testa, owners of Pizzeria Augusteo in the heart of Naples, say pineapple doesn’t belong on pizza, and especially not in its birthplace of Naples. (Megan Williams/CBC)

Inside the tiny eatery, owners Ileana and Michele Testa sit at a small table digging into a late lunch of pizza bianca, loaded with toppings similar to those on Sorbillo’s pineapple pizza — minus the fruit.

“Neapolitan pizza is a poor person’s food, made with simple, local ingredients,” said Michele. “Pineapple comes from the other side of the world. Do whatever you want with pizza, but don’t do it in Naples.”

First Hawaii, next the world

But Sorbillo says he’s unfazed by the doubters, calling his introduction of pineapple pizza into Italy a culinary “anno zero” or “year zero,” a revolutionary change.

His next plan is to roll out a range of Italian versions of non-Italian “pizzas of the world” — translating what he considers bastardized ingredients back into local ones and sticking to the countless cultural rules of Italian cuisine and food pairing.

Next to appear on his menu, he says, will be a Neapolitan revisitation of the North American pepperoni pizza.

“We’re showing that even an ‘Americanata’ — an American gastronomic mishmash — can gain acceptance here if it’s recreated properly.”

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