World Pizza Day: An Ode To The Disc Full Of Pleasures
Image Credit: Pizza is like a full meal on a disc of wheat. Image Credit: Freepik

Do you know what Indians and Italians have in common? It’s the greatest respect that we have for our grandmothers’ cooking. Whether it’s the Indian daadi teaching her grandkids the right way to make parathas or how to break down a fish head properly, or the Italian nonna teaching hers all about the ingredients that go into the making of Bolognese sauce or how to make a Napolitana pizza, the sentiment of expressing love through the art of food remains the same. This might be the very reason why, while growing up, I was always left confused when I heard elderly Indian women say, “Pizza khaa ke pet thodi bharta hai, yeh khana thodi hai” (a pizza is not filling, it’s not exactly food). Pizza is still considered “just a snack” by many in India today.

What exactly do we need in a full, balanced meal? Carbs, some veggies, a bit of meat or protein, some gravy and some fat, right? In that sense, isn’t a wheat pizza base loaded with mushrooms, bell peppers, olives, paneer, onions and a marinara sauce a complete meal? Of course, it is, and most Indians today will agree. We have now, adapted the Italian pizza into an Indianised treat which we love to dig into on any given day—but especially on occasions when we are surrounded by family and friends. For some families the briefest introduction to pizza gave us the opportunity to include a new dish in our family repertoire. Here’s the story of how it happened in mine, and why we take the art of making pizza as seriously as an Italian nonna does.

When Pizzas First Came To India

The history of pizza in India can be traced all the way back to the 1980s and 1990s, when a select few places would serve American-style pizza—mostly in Delhi. I have no idea how my parents first heard of it, but being lifelong culinary explorers and food enthusiasts led them to take my brother and I to many an adventure at home and beyond. The first time they made strudel after reading the recipe in a cookbook, for example, was particularly traumatic. Our pizza experience was, thankfully, a happy one. The first Domino’s branch had opened up in 1996, and my mother insisted that, being a baker, if she tasted the dish once, she’ll be able to make it at home more regularly.

She was right. We tried the large Domino’s Farmhouse Pizza and enjoyed it thoroughly, and went home. The next weekend, my mother prepared a fresh dough from scratch, prepped a number of toppings—including capsicum, onions, grilled chicken, sweet corn and cheese—tried her hand at a tomato sauce, and whipped up our first pizza lunch! It was such a roaring success that not only did my mother continue to make pizzas for family meals even after a long work day at the school where she taught (she would make the dough well ahead of time and just throw in all sorts of toppings after coming home), but she started teaching both her kids how to make it too.

Adapting To Pizza-Making Like Italians Do

Just like in an Italian household, Sundays were spent with my brother and I learning how to mix yeast into dough, how much time the dough needed to rest, how to activate the gluten for the best bread, etc. Being brought up by a foodie who is also a chemistry teacher meant that our pizzas were always as much pieces of art as they were products of science. As our access to Italian cuisine through cookbooks and cable network increased, we discovered that, inadvertently, we had taken to making pizza like a family just like the Italians do. The bread-making and baking basics were taught to me and my brother by our mother instead of an Italian nonna, but we had captured the sentiment right. 

Today, I whip up pizzas on weeknights just like my mother did (and still does, to be honest), and every moment of the process brings bouts of nostalgia along. Along the way, I discovered that I’m not the only Indian who learnt to love pizzas this way. Ask any home cook and you’ll find that if they like baking, they’ve tried their hand at baking pizzas too—and it doesn’t matter what toppings they use. Thanks to modern Indian foodies who are global in their outlook, we have taken to pizzas with open hearts and are keeping the home cooking traditions of our own grandmothers as well as Italian nonnas alive.