Many friendships have been ruined over pineapple. It’s even been used as an alibi in a gangland shooting, according to The Age. The Hawaiian pizza was a staple at sleepover parties as a kid, probably because of its delirious sweetness. But unlike how people grow out of drenching everything in tomato sauce, some people don’t grow out of drenching pizza with pineapple. And others, most likely their family members, will berate them for it.
“I am a fan of pineapple as a fruit,” says Anna Kiparis, pizza consultant at I Carusi, “however, not as a pizza topping.” That’s a common distinction. There’s something about placing a tropical fruit on top of a pile of ham, tomato, cheese and dough that magically changes its appeal for some. Kiparis notices that if a pro-pineapple and anti-pineapple couple share a pizza, one person may pick the pineapple off and leave it on their plate without much fuss. That’s true love.
It seems the sweaty canned pineapple that made your $5 pizza soggy in the ’80s is a thing of the past in inner-Melbourne. Pizza Meine Liebe in Northcote uses fresh, roasted pineapple and smoky speck on its “QLDer” pizza. Owner, Elena Bonnici says the pizzeria sells heaps on Friday nights because it’s kid-friendly. She has a soft spot for it, too: “It’s my go-to comfort pizza,” she says. “We have grown up with it.”
Many people think topping pizza with pineapple is an Australian thing. It’s hard to know exactly who to blame for its invention, but the most-commonly referenced creator is a Greek man who lived in Canada. Sam Panopoulos stopped off in Naples and tasted traditional-style pizza on his way to Canada by boat in 1954. Tiki culture took off in the ’50s and ’60s after World War Two and soldiers returned from Hawaii sporting Bermuda shorts and toting tinned pineapple. In 1962, Panopoulos took out his can-opener and decided to change pizza forever.
Most people who dislike pineapple on pizza seem to think the place for fruit is dessert, not savoury dishes. However, some people don’t even like pineapple by itself. “I suspect it has deep psychological roots tied to childhood,” suggests Sugar Prawn owner, Fred Mora.
Or maybe it’s simply because pineapple eats your flesh? Bromelain, a protein-digesting enzyme in fresh pineapple, is great for tenderising steak and also, your tongue. Ever polished off a whole pineapple on a balmy summer evening and consequently felt like your tongue’s been dragged along a gravel road for 10 kilometres? Blame the bromelain.
If your tongue or the sensitive corners of your mouth are still recovering, wear a blindfold if you plan on visiting Sugar Prawn. “They make the most wonderful ornaments around the venue,” says Mora, of the pineapples that line the bar. In 18th-century Europe, Mora would have been considered a king for having so many pineapples in his venue. The rare spiky fruit was a status symbol because it was so hard to obtain. Back then, a single pineapple could cost the equivalent of thousands of dollars today, so people used to rent them to show off to guests.
If you’ve lived through the ’50s, you’re excused for not jumping on the pineapple train. Cookbooks were filled with truly horrific recipes, such as “liver sausage pineapple”. It’s a liverwurst, mayonnaise and Worcestershire sauce mixture, set with gelatin and presented in the shape of a pineapple. Olives stud the edge of the pineapple-flavoured icing. No wonder some people have trust issues.
Wherever you fall on the pineapple spectrum, there’s a Melbourne dish to suit your tastes.
Where to find entry-level pineapple
Fresh pineapple juice, at the Sweet & Nut Shop in Prahran Market, South Yarra
Pineapple granita with licorice ice cream, at United Arab Eatery, Preston
Sticky lamb belly with pickled chilli pineapple, at Sugar Prawn, Collingwood
QLDer pizza, at Pizza Meine Liebe, Northcote
Hawaiian pizza, at I Carusi Pizza, Brunswick East
A whole flesh-eating pineapple, at Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne
A special thanks to Senserrick Grocer for supplying the pineapple.