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Hate Pineapple on Pizza? Blame Canada

Love it or hate it, Hawaiian pizza's orgin story is not particularly Hawaiian

When news came out that Iceland’s President Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson would ban pineapple as a topping on pizza if he had the power to do so, it prompted a heated worldwide debate. On Twitter, for instance, the hashtag #pineappleonpizza arrived piping hot, a flashpoint for division between pro- and anti-pineapple forces.

While some pizza lovers adore the pineapple for bringing sweetness to the salty and tangy mix, there are pineapple haters besides the Icelandic president – and they are known to position themselves as purists. Here’s a Quora forum in which some of them try to explain their disdain for sweet yellow chunks on their pies.

In Italy itself, the tropical fruit (ananas in Italian) is rare to nonexistent in pizzerias, making its adoption by foreigners a source of scorn for Italians.  

One might imagine that Hawaiian pizza (tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, pineapple, ham and sometimes bacon) is a Hawaiian innovation – or at least an American one, as it’s universally available in the United States, the country that arguably introduced most of the world to pizza.

Yet if you believe blame is in order, you can lay that blame on Canada. The delicacy turns out to originate where you might least expect it, in Southwestern Ontario – the city of Chatham-Kent, some 80 kilometres east of Windsor, Ont. At least that’s what we learn from the best available evidence – which, granted, is just a couple of 2010 articles in the Village Voice and Chatham Daily News, based on eyewitness testimony.   

The story of how pineapple came to live on pizza starts with one Greek immigrant named Sam Panopoulos. Now in his eighties, retired, and living in London, Ontario, Ponopoulos opened a restaurant called Satellite in downtown Chatham when he moved to Canada back in the late 1950s. (It's still open to this day.) 

When Billy reached him last week, Panopoulos admitted he knew nothing about pizza at the time, except that food vendors in Windsor were starting to sell it (they picked up the trend from Detroit). So he tried it out, and it was a hit with his customers.

“Those days, the only things put on pizza were pepperoni, bacon and mushroom – nothing else,” Panopoulos explained. Ever the innovator, Panopoulos saw a tin of canned pineapples on his shelf and chucked them on the pizza. The label on the can said something about Hawaii, so he called the pizza “Hawaiian” on his menu.

“At first the customers had a bit of a problem,” he reminisced. “Then after a while they couldn’t have enough of it.”

Another Chatham institution, run by a different Greek immigrant family, also claims to be among the first to use pineapple on pizza – again, pointing to a genesis in Chatham-Kent.

Gina Pareskevopoulos is the daughter of the late Peter Pappos, who opened up Panopoulos’ rival pizza restaurant, called the Thames Lea, in 1966. If the Thames Lea wasn’t the first to come up with the pineapple pizza topping, Pareskevopoulos says it was, at any rate, the first pizzeria in Chatham that made what it calls “homemade” pizza.

Both the Panopoulos and Pappos families know each other – though we didn’t get the sense it’s a warm relationship – and are perplexed by all the media coverage surrounding pineapples on pizza. To them, it was just something that happened. Says Panopolous: “We were young. We didn’t know anything."

Published Monday, February 27th 2017

Header image credit: Shutterstock



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