Pizza lovers may be surprised to know that several countries traditionally have their own versions. The next time you’re planning a trip, dough it right! On World Pizza Day (February 9), we thought we’ll take you on a virtual journey for some easy-as-pie inspiration.
Back in 2009, the European Union, upon Italian request, granted a Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG) safeguard to traditional Neapolitan pizza. They specified permissible ingredients and methods of processing and only pizzas which followed these guidelines could be called ‘traditional Italian pizzas’ in Italy. While the precious protected Italian pizzas as we know them — Margherita, Napoletana, Marinara, Capricciosa, etc — vary from region to region themselves, there’s literally a world of pizza-like pies being baked across the world. Here’s a whole host of pizza-like bready bonanzas we know you’d love to explore while you travel. Purely, on a knead-to-know basis, of course!
What it is: Pide is an oval-shaped flatbread baked with various combinations of toppings or stuffing. There are versions with spiced minced meat or Turkish beef sausage, and even delicious vegetarian ones with spinach.
Also try: Gozelme, which is a flatbread stuffed with minced meat or spinach.
Where to try it: Head to the stylish and historic precinct of Beyoğlu on the European side of Istanbul (author Orhan Pamuk centres a lot of the events in his novel Masumiyet Müzesi or The Museum of Innocence around this area) for a taste of traditional pide at Nizam’s. Founded by Nizamettin Kızılkaya in the 70s, the pide here are the pride of Istanbul.
France’s Tarte Flambée
What it is: Originating in the Alsace region, it’s a thin crust bread, usually topped with crème fraîche, caramelised onions and lardons (small pieces of pork fat). The German version called Flammukuchen eaten across the border is similar but made with raw onions and raw bacon.
Also try: Pissaladiere, which is popular in Provence, said to have originated in coastal Nice. This one has a thicker base and is topped with caramelised onions and salty anchovies.
Where to try it: Of course, the most authentic version of Tarte Flambéeis to be found on the border of France and Germany. The one at L’Ancienne Douane in Strasbourg is said to be one of the tastiest and most popular, especially when had with their beer. After viewing the city centre of Grande Île, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the newer bits of this beautiful, multi-cultural town that’s the official seat of the European Parliament, you can relax at a riverside terrace table of this lovely eatery that was once the old customs house.
The Middle East’s Pita
What it is: The soft, lightly leavened and fast baked Pita has been around for more than 4,000 years and is popular in the Middle East as well as the Eastern Mediterranean. The people of many countries, including Lebanon, Greece, Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Iran, North Africa, and Israel, have relished it for centuries. Pita is broken into pieces to eat with dips such as vegetarian hummus, babaganoush, tzatziki, or tabouleh, and even as a flatbread base for toppings and stuffing of spiced lamb and chicken or falafel like pizza.
Also try: Pillowy Arabic bread called Khubz that is popular all over the Middle East and Gulf region. Often topped with a vegetable and meat stew called thareed, khubz can be teamed up with just about anything.
Where to try it: It’s tough to narrow it down to the best, when it’s a favourite staple of so many places. Every ancient city has its top spots. So, here’s our pick from modern Tel Aviv instead, with Ariel Rosenthal’s Falafel Hakosem, which has transitioned from street stall to hot craze in its 17 years of existence, serving up juicy shawarma, tasty hummus, and crunchy falafel wrapped in the perfect pita. The perfect pick me up if you’ve been shopping at Dizengoff Center, Israel’s first shopping mall, which is minutes away from this spot on Shlomo Hamelech street.
What it is: Think a thick crust stuffed silly with mozzarella cheese and topped with cooked sweet onions, but minus the typical tomato sauce, and you have the basic Argentinian Fugazzeta.
Where to try it: People literally queue up for a slice of paradise at El Cuartitoin downtown Buenos Aires! Eat here or take your Fugazetta around the corner to take in the beauty of the Mirador Massue, a 1909 Art Nouveau building built at the corner of Talcahuano and Tucuman streets. The Plaza Lavalle square nearby is gorgeous too — swishing palms and red-blossomed ceiba trees, the grand Palace of Justice (Argentina’s supreme court), the Central Synagogue of Buenos Aires, and the famous Teatro Colón, known as one of the best opera theatres in the world.
What it is: The thin and foldable bread is stretched out with the fingertips and has little depressionsto hold the toppings of seasoningssuch as thyme, sumac, za’atar and sesame seeds better. Manakish is usually served with fresh mint, juicy slices of tomato and cucumber.
Where to try it: A number of quaint cafes in Beirut’s Achrafieh district offer this breakfast dish. Enjoy it outdoors as you feast your senses on the vibrant neighbourhood full of beautiful traditional French and Ottoman houses and high-rise commercial buildings. Check out the shops, galleries, and museums after.
What it is: Made with slightly lighter dough than in Italy, Coca is rolled out really thin. It doesn’t usually have a sauce or cheese in the topping. Mainly eaten in Catalonia, it is traditionally topped with red bell peppers, eggplant, onion, and anchovies or sardines. Other savoury toppings feature caramelised onions and the Spanish sausage called fuet. During the summer solstice, sweet Sant Joan cocas with candied fruit and marzipan are popular too.
Where to try it: Try an aromatic coca by Josep Anton Ribas at his Forn Cruixent bakery in Barcelona’s chic El Poblenou, an interesting neighbourhood that has gone from working class to prime in recent times, located as it is between great beaches and lush parks and a pulsating city centre, filled with bars and restaurants.
What it is: Made with minced lamb, tomato, olive oil, fresh parsley, and a blend of spices such as cumin, cinnamon, paprika, and onion and garlic, on crusty flatbread, Lahmadjoun, also known as lahmacun, is popular across Greece and Turkey as well.
Where to try it: The locals in Yerevan troop to Tamanyan street to get their fill of Lahmadjoun at Mer Taghe. From museums to carpet shopping, the eat street is popular with tourists too.
What it is: Ftira is a ring-shaped, leavened bread or sourdough that the Maltese usually eat with various fillings. But they also have an open-faced version that is eaten like pizza, with local cheese like gbejniet, onions and potatoes, plus optional toppings such as tuna, olives, anchovies, sundried tomatoes, and traditional Maltese sausage.
Where to try it: Ftira is mainly eaten on the island of Gozo, and the local Gozitans recommend both, the no-frills Maxokk Bakery and the family-run Mekren’s Bakery for the best in town. The second largest island in the Maltese archipelago, Gozo, surrounded by the incredibly blue Mediterranean Sea, is considered one of the top diving destinations in the region. Work up an appetite with water sports and then head to Nadur on the eastern side of the island, for this tasty treat.
Must Read: Best of the best pizzas in Delhi
What it is: Close to pizza, but more like an open-faced thick-crust sandwich built on the lengthwise half of a baguette, Zapiekanki are topped with smoked sheep milk cheese (oscypek), mushrooms, and ketchup too. They’ve been a popular street snack across Poland since the 1970s.
Where to try it: Head to Plac Nowy (New Square) in the Kazimierz district of Kraków to check out the zapiekanka stands at Okrąglak that have almost attained a cult following. While you chew on your Zapiekanka, stroll around the old square and soak in the wealth of architecture and history. This was not only the old Jewish quarter of Kraków once rich with scientists, writers, artists and craftsmen, but also where the horrors of Nazi occupation unfolded in the ghetto across the river. You may recognise landmarks from Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List, which was shot here.
What it is: Last but certainly not the least, is this thick yet soft leavened bread which is one of may varieties baked in a traditional oven called a tandoor across the Indian sub-continent. The Kulcha has its roots in southern, central, and western Asia and was adopted by northern India before its popularity spread across the country via restaurants down the decades. While it is traditionally used to scoop up gravy-based preparations like a chick-pea curry called Chhole, its stuffed variety is what brings it close to a pizza or its plumper cousin, the calzone. The Kulcha can be stuffed with potato and onion, crumbled cottage cheese (paneer), or minced meat.
Also try: Naan, which is traditionally leavened using yeast, is usually slathered with butter or ghee and sometimes has garlic and cheese grated over it too.
Where to try it: It can be found in every north Indian restaurant across the country but the ones in Amritsar are especially known for their filling, texture and taste. Locals swear by Bhai Kulwant Singh Kulchian Wale in Bazar Bikaneria close to the Golden Temple. Once you have paid your respects at Harmandir Sahib, check out the five types of stuffed Amritsari Kulchas and wash down your meal with a glass of chilled Lassi.
Some countries may not have pizza on their traditional menu but have adapted the toppings to local tastes. Like Korea, where you can find pizza with Gochujang, a paste made from fermented soybeans. Or Iceland and Sweden, where it’s common to have banana on your pizza. You’d better stop pooh-poohing that pineapple on your pizza now.
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