“I wouldn’t even serve this to my worst enemy,” our waiter says with a smile as he plonks the pizza down on the table.
“This” is a kiwifruit pizza, an innovation that horrified the internet this week after an image of one was shared widely on Reddit and then picked up by the press. One user labelled it “unholy”, while others expressed curiosity.
That’s why we are at Al Taglio pizzeria in Surry Hills, Sydney. The restaurant has won multiple accolades for its creative, modern approach to pizza making. Although chef Enrico Sgarbossa is a little sceptical, he was prepared to experiment with kiwi, just for us. We showed him a photograph, but asked him to use the fruit however he thought would work best.
It turns out the original kiwi pizza was also an off-menu order. On 5 January Stellan Johansson took some kiwifruit to his village pizzeria in Skottorps in the south of Sweden and requested they use it in a pizza for him.
“The men in the pizzeria thought I was mad,” Johansson tells Guardian Australia. But they did it anyway. He snapped a picture for his Facebook page, then “someone took my photo and now it’s everywhere”.
Johansson isn’t annoyed by the coverage, some of which falsely states the pizza was available on the menu of a restaurant in Denmark. “I think it’s funny.”
Johansson had been given 10kg of kiwis by his brother, who grows them, for Christmas. He was looking for ways to use the produce up. He’d been baking them in cakes, and even deep-frying them, but suggests the pizza was one of his better innovations. “I like it … My children also liked it.”
Back in Sydney, two of my coworkers are debating the pizza’s visual merits. “Aesthetically it’s beautiful because of the contrasting colour scheme,” one observes. The second counters: “It’s unappealing to see kiwi on a pizza.” But, says the first, “If you didn’t know what kiwi was, maybe you’d just look at it and say ‘Oh a beautiful piece of green on my pizza.’”
Our version is neat and aspirational – like a smoothie bowl on cheat day. An oval sliver of raw, jade-green kiwi is placed at the centre of each pizza slice. It’s a departure from Johansson’s original, with its liberally scattered slices, the sight of which was enough to trigger a trypophobia I never knew I had. Perhaps that’s why social media users were so enthralled by it.
We take our bites and learn what Johansson already knew – kiwifruit on pizza is actually pretty good. At first, the tart sweetness cuts through the ham and cheese, like pineapple might. But the texture is softer, with less contrast. “It doesn’t ruin the pizza, which is what I expected it to do,” says one of my dining companions. The other, a former pastry chef, likens it to a slice of oxheart tomato. “It gives that tang and freshness. I think if you were to eat this blindfolded you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.”
But kiwi’s real topping analogue is pineapple. Your relationship to Hawaiian pizza will probably determine your tolerance for kiwi. Pineapple may be controversial, but in Australia, analysis by Menulog found that Hawaiian pizza is the country’s second-most popular topping after margherita.
In total, seven Guardian Australia staffers tried the pizza, and in our unscientific poll, every pineapple pizza fan said they would eat kiwi pizza again. Some even preferred it.
Even our pizza chef believes that with a bit more finessing, kiwifruit could have its place. Last year, Sgarbossa – who approaches pizza with an academic zeal – trialled a fruity “bruschetta pizza” that featured finely diced tomato, rockmelon and red onion on a focaccia-style base, topped with burrata. It was one of the restaurant’s most popular styles that summer.
Sgarbossa teaches pizza-making workshops, and tells his students there’s no such thing as a good or bad topping. It comes down to common sense, good ingredients and personal taste.
The kiwi pizza we tried worked because it placed kiwi on top of an already-good pizza. The base, high-quality ham and mozzarella did most of the heavy lifting. The fruit was just there for a touch of tang and novelty. Sure, the seeds were slightly gritty – but if you get the balance right, pizzas can have a little kiwi.
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