Boba pizza isn’t as atrocious as it would sound. They promote it at Domino’s Pizza in Taiwan, the place plump tapioca pearls, beforehand soaked in sugar, are unfold out evenly throughout a skinny pie, sprinkled with miniature white mochi balls and topped off with a diluted honey drizzle. A layer of gentle industrial mozzarella cheese within the center holds all the pieces collectively. It’s a well-executed distinction of candy and savory, additional dropped at life by the squeaky textures from the boba, mochi, and cheese. And if it’s not sufficient boba for you, you may order it stuffed contained in the crust as effectively. Taste-wise, the entire thing goes down like a cross between a honey cake and a soothing, heat flan.
This may increasingly all seem to be a publicity stunt, however boba isn’t that a lot of an outlier with regards to pizza toppings in Asia. It exists comfortably in part of the world the place unconventional toppings—a minimum of for the Western gaze—are the norm, like bulgogi on pizza in Korea, butter hen in India, and natto in Japan. Whereas all these pies might seem to be they exist for shock worth—sometimes deemed “completely revolting”—they had been really invented to cater to native tastes. The virality is only a optimistic by-product—an element that offends principally outsiders.
I used to be first launched to boba pizza by my good friend Lev Nachman, a visiting scholar at Nationwide Taiwan College whose Twitter thread about eating a boba pizza went viral in 2019. “What I actually liked about my boba pizza tweet going viral is that it managed to offend individuals in just about each nation,” he says. “I had tweets responding to me in each language doable, from Arabic to Thai to Russian, and folks yelling at me about what a catastrophe and what a monstrosity this factor was.”
“Texturally, the squeaky cheese goes together with boba. It’s not so distant that it feels misplaced. Including mochi offers it one other type of chewiness—so it's a must to like chewy issues,” he says.
The inventor of boba pizza was not some advertising and marketing govt at Domino’s with a need to go viral at any value. It was Chen Yun Yu, who owns Foodie Star—a Taiwanese eatery within the southwestern Taiwanese metropolis of Chiayi. She tells me that she’s by no means been a fan of conventional Italian-style pizza with tomato sauce and melted mozzarella, and he or she prefers her pies dressed with flavors that she’s used to, like candy adzuki bean, fruit with condensed milk, curried pork, and boba.
“What I actually liked about my boba pizza tweet going viral is that it managed to offend individuals in just about each nation.”
“The boba is admittedly only for the feel,” she says of her signature pizza. In Taiwanese delicacies, texture is a cornerstone, and one of the vital traditional textures is described as “Q” (pronounced the identical in English as it's in Mandarin). Taiwanese individuals use the phrase “Q” or “QQ” as an approximation of the idea of al dente, besides that one thing that's Q has a bit extra of a spring to it—extra gummy bear than well-cooked pasta. “I consider native tastes. We don’t cater to foreigners. We cater to locals,” says Chen, defending herself.
A lot in the identical manner that American Chinese language meals is totally totally different from the meals really served in China, pizza in Asia is oftentimes unrecognizable from the margheritas, Sicilians, and greenback slices of the world. The everyday guidelines that govern pizza within the West don’t apply in any respect within the East, as a result of the tradition of pizza is comparatively new, that means individuals don’t have a preconceived notion of what pizza ought to style like, and since traditional components like candy basil, prosciutto, and mozzarella are extraordinarily troublesome to search out. “My mom usually remembers how home ovens began changing into out there in India within the Nineteen Seventies, and the very first thing everybody wished to make was pizza,” says meals author Sejal Sukhadwala. “Individuals had been fascinated by it. The pizzas on the time had been like traybakes, reduce into squares or rectangles, and the toppings had been an imitation of pizza margherita, besides that native processed cheeses had been substituted for mozzarella, and inexperienced chiles had been sprinkled liberally.”
Chain pizzerias like Pizza Hut and Domino’s started opening up all through Asia within the ’80s and ’90s, introducing the dish to the plenty. However as an alternative of serving the identical pizza they make in america, they found that business was much better when they adapted to local tastes. In India immediately, pizzerias may be present in each main metropolis, however they serve pies layered with brilliant orange tandoori hen, spiced butter hen, and gentle cubes of paneer for the vegetarians. “I wouldn’t name them Indian pizza locations. They’re simply pizza locations,” explains Amrita Amesur, an Indian meals author based mostly in Mumbai. “I grew up Hindu, so we don’t eat pork or beef at house. Pepperoni remains to be a bit of bit international, and it’s nonetheless fairly uncommon. It’s just for people who find themselves acquainted with Western flavors.”
“Boba pizza isn't unhealthy. It’s actually good!” she says. “It’s really fairly troublesome to make it style unhealthy.”
By now, many of those quirky taste mixtures have grow to be so iconic that they’ve really been imported again to the West. When pizza chains first began debuting in Korea within the ’90s, for instance, bulgogi pizza was the usual. So, at Koreatown Pizza Company, a Korean-style pizzeria in Los Angeles, their specialty is an enormous pie they name the Kingsley, which is principally Korean barbecue reincarnated on a pizza. Marinated bulgogi and corn cheese make up the majority of the dish, anchored by an enormous fried onion flower within the center. The crust is filled with candy potato mousse, and that entire factor is topped with a sprinkling of cheddar. “Individuals can get pizza wherever. So we'd as effectively have pizza that everybody likes, but in addition do issues that most individuals can’t get,” says co-owner Johnny Lee.
There’s a freedom to suspending the same old components of tomato sauce and cheese in a greasy cardboard field, and permitting pizza to be a clean slate—each as a dish and as an idea. In China, Pizza Hut has rebranded itself as a fine dining destination, with an in depth menu that features steak, noodles, salad, and cake. Some places actually have a full wine checklist. I nonetheless vividly recall occurring a date at a Pizza Hut in 2012 within the jap Chinese language metropolis of Xiamen with my boyfriend on the time. Positioned on the very high flooring of one of many tallest skyscrapers on the town, it was graced with a full panoramic view of the town. We ordered a glass of crimson wine; our pizza was served on a plate with a knife and fork. It wasn’t a very nice meal, however the environment was divine. It was the primary and solely romantic meal I’ve ever had at a Pizza Hut.
Whereas there does exist a distinct segment subset of Italian, Chicago, and New York–fashion pizzerias in Asia that attempt to imitate their unique regional variant as a lot as doable, these institutions are usually confined to top-tier cities and are catered towards a well-traveled and wealthier consumer base. The common individual in Asia has by no means had a correct Neapolitan pizza, and even pure mozzarella cheese, and as an alternative sees pizza as a clean vessel for his or her favourite flavors.
Chen laughs once I inform her what the worldwide response to boba pizza has been like. “Boba pizza isn't unhealthy. It’s actually good!” she says. “It’s really fairly troublesome to make it style unhealthy. It’s solely unhealthy when the feel isn't QQ sufficient, but it surely’ll by no means be disgusting to the purpose that it’s inedible.”