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Asia By Way of Italy — A Twist on Pizza

Let’s be completely honest with each other, pizza is a perfect food (also in this category: pie and sandwiches, but that’s for another conversation). Pizza can be breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert and is delicious warm or cold. The rest of world has recognized such perfection and has embraced chain restaurants like Pizza Hut all over the globe while small restaurants like Happy Pizza (marijuana is the secret ingredient) in Cambodia or Pizza Sasa in Laos are pushing the Italian tradition into unexpected cultures.

Legend suggests that pizza may have actually originated in China with a savory treat known as Cong You Bing. Rumor has it that the scallion pancake was loved so much by Marco Polo that he had chefs in Italy make him a version of the unleavened flatbread, which may have evolved into the pizza we are so familiar with.

Naturally, this caught my attention.

How have other Asian cultures expressed this simple combination of a crust and something delicious on top? As my curiosity wandered south, I found a couple of delights that I would love to share with you.

There is an Indian staple known as paratha, an unleavened flat bread that is thinner that naan but thicker than roti. It can be enjoyed plain, with a little butter or yogurt and sometimes spices or vegetables get thrown in to add flavor and nutrition. In a modern twist, some prep the dough like a calzone and fill it with their favorite pizza toppings. Follow this simple recipe and you can make your own parathas!

Banh Trang Nuong (By Huutai11791 – Tác phẩm do chính người tải lên tạo ra, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29118321)

Banh Trang Nuong (By Huutai11791 – Tác phẩm do chính người tải lên tạo ra, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29118321)

There is a very popular street food in Vietnam called Banh Trang Nuong and it resembles a pizza with all the assorted toppings, yet the similarities stop there. In lieu of a thick dough for the crust, a thin piece of rice paper is used instead. Then an egg is added instead of tomato sauce, as the egg holds the toppings in place. Some opt for a western flavor with cheese and cut up hot dogs while dried pork and Sriracha are used for a more traditional style. If you need Banh Trang Nuong in your life and you have access to a grill, try this:

At a very low heat, place your rice paper on the grill. Then, crack an egg directly onto the rice paper and you may want to use the back of a spoon to evenly spread the egg. Add the rest of your desired ingredients and make sure to rotate the rice paper so that all the edges are evenly grilled. Last, fold over the rice paper when all parts are crispy and serve.

Sometimes, the expression of pizza is merely taking a cultural norm and imagining it in a different culinary context.  The longganisa (it’s kind of like a sweet chorizo) and whole eggs combination is a Filipino favorite all-day breakfast meal. They’re usually served with rice and a simple tomato salad on the side. Now imagine taking these breakfast staples and having a pizza with a distinct Filipino character!

dough-943245_640A really great pizza is defined by an amazing crust. When the crust is right, everything else falls into place. With a little patience, I promise that pizza dough is quite simple. This versatile pizza dough recipe is great because it’s nice and crispy when rolled thin, but chewy when made thick. This is what you’ll need:

 

Simple Pizza Dough
 
Ingredients
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast* or instant yeast
  • ⅞ to 1⅛ cups lukewarm water**
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 1¼ teaspoons salt
  • *If you're using active dry yeast, dissolve it with a pinch of sugar, in 2 tablespoons of your water. Allow that to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, until the mixture has bubbled and expanded.
  • **Use the lesser amount in summer (or in a humid environment), the greater amount in winter (or in a dry climate), and somewhere in between the rest of the year, or if your house is climate controlled.
Instructions
  1. First, you will combine the dissolved yeast (or the instant yeast) with the rest of the ingredients.
  2. Mix and knead everything together however you prefer be it by hand, mixer or bread machine set on the dough cycle until you've made a soft, smooth dough.
  3. If you don't have any of the fancy equipment, check this out: you can just use time and physics to your advantage. Just stir everything together, cover it with plastic wrap, and let that sit out overnight. The next day, your dough will be ready for you!
  4. If you want prime flavor and texture, consider throwing that dough into a zipper-lock bag and storing it in your refrigerator for a couple days. This is called “cold fermenting” and it will make your dough not only taste incredible, but it will also improve it's browning characteristics.
  5. When you're ready to make that pizza, no matter what size or shape you're going for, don't pat it into shape. Rather, stretch that ball of dough into whatever kind of pizza you're going for. If you can't stretch it like a pro, just use a rolling pin.
tomato-soup-482403_640To offset the complexities of masterful pizza dough making, here’s an easy tomato sauce recipe to restore balance to your life. 
Simple No-Cook Pizza Sauce
 
Ingredients
  • 1 (4-ounce) can tomato paste
  • 1½ cups water
  • ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • ½ tablespoon chopped fresh oregano leaves
  • ½ tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves
  • ½ tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
Instructions
  1. You don't even have to cook this one. Just mix them together (the longer it stands, the more the flavor blends) and throw it on your dough!
 

Longganisa (Photo Flickr Chareze Stamatelaky)

Longganisa (Photo Flickr Chareze Stamatelaky)

Then for your toppings you need:

Filipino Inspired Pizza
 
Ingredients
  • 2 cups longganisa out of its casing, browned
  • 1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 12 to 15 quail eggs
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced, separated into rings
Instructions
  1. Spread the meat, top with cheese, and then crack the quail eggs one by one onto a pizza dough.
  2. Add the onion rings and bake for 8 to 10 minutes
 

With all these variations and flavors, dare you argue that pizza is not perfection?

Written by

Travis believes that life should be full of flavor and indiscriminately spends his time eating all the tasty food he can find without apology. He is a proud graduate of Soka University of America in Aliso Viejo, California and finds peace in the kitchen.