“Do you like Hawaiian pizza?”
I was at a famous Waikiki Beach restaurant on assignment recently, Duke’s Waikiki, and the question would later send me into an existential tailspin. It was a simple and innocent yes-or-no question asked by a child on vacation with their parents. Sitting at the bar of my neighborhood pub days later, an old haunt that became an excellent pizza joint a couple of years ago, that simple question gnawed at me. What is “Hawaiian pizza?”
Wikipedia would have me believe that it was first created by a Greek-born Canadian in Ontario in 1962 when he paired pineapple and ham on a putatively traditional tomato sauce-based baked flatbread preparation, on a pizza. “Hawaiian” was printed on the pineapple packaging the culinarily adventurous Greek-Canadian chef used, hence the name. What?
Further down that rabbit hole, I discovered a similar German creation from 1955 and a 1960 Rocky and Bullwinkle episode that featured “pineapple pizza”. Watching that episode was possibly the only qualitative good that came from my tortured ruminations on the honest question of a child.
Hawaiian pizza – the debate
Purists might argue that once you put pineapple on it, it stops being a pizza. Fair enough. I’m not a purist. I find that discussion about as useful as trying to determine if a hot dog is, in fact, a sandwich. Who cares? Call it what you want. I once had a drummer who had a pet iguana named “Pizza”. It was an ornery, scaly menace.
You can put traditional Hawaii ingredients like kalua pig on a pizza, but does that make it “Hawaiian pizza?” Splitting that hair gives me a splitting headache. Pizza chefs are by nature inclined to experiment with ingredients. I’ve enjoyed a delicious kalua pig pizza, and many others with char siu, barbeque chicken, corned beef, and other decidedly nontraditional pizza toppings. Slapping anything not inherently Native Hawaiian with the “Hawaiian” label is dishonest at best and cynical cultural appropriation at worst. Pizza has never been a product exclusively of the Hawaiian Islands.
“’ So-called ‘Hawaiian pizza’ is just a construct, man!” I howl into the void. Eat what you want. Buy local.
Hawaii pizza culture
It occurred to me over a slice of good old pepperoni and cheese at my local that indie pizza culture is thriving in Hawaii. I suppose that is another qualitative good that came from pondering the notion of “Hawaiian pizza”. It makes me marginally more optimistic, and I’ll take it.
There are three local, non-chain pizza joints within walking distance from the HAT Blog Home Office. They are all legit pizza joints whose pies stack up with any we’ve had anywhere across the US. There are many more all over Oahu and its neighboring islands. There is no gimmick to them, and, frankly, I’d be surprised to see pineapple on any of their menus. One pizza chef I know won’t allow pineapple into his restaurant. Not even for Mai Tais. (Another refuses to offer ranch dressing. Pizza chefs are a peculiar lot.)
So, is “Hawaiian pizza” a real thing? Yep. It has been for a long time. Is it actually Hawaiian? Not by a long shot. Consensus holds that pineapples arrived in Hawaii in 1770 from South America. Henry Dole turned them into a cash crop in 1899. Case closed.
Put whatever you want on your pizza. Call it whatever you want, but be honest. Pineapple? Have at it. Pizza and pineapple share a common attribute: however you slice it (or name it), it is what it is.
Contact our experts at Hawaii Aloha Travel for the inside track on Hawaii’s best indie pizza joints to get a feel and taste of Hawaii’s unique pizza culture.