There were two amusing questions people asked when we said we were going to India:
“Are you taking your motorhome?” (uh… no).
“Are you going to try the pizza in India?” (duh).
Randomly eating pizza in India is the epitome of ‘taking one for the team.’ India is not a country known for great pizza, although it is a nation that has become fond of bready, cheesy, flat round things that they call pizza.
And while we didn’t go there for the pizza, we had to try some. But we admit we didn’t have to try some right away.
We changed planes in Mumbai (Bombay) and here’s what we saw at the airport:
A little slice of America… although the Teekha Paneer Makhani is probably not available Stateside. Prices, by the way, are in Rupees, making the medium Veggie Supreme a rather pricey ten bucks. But hey, it’s the airport. We didn’t sample the Indian Hut’s pizza, since Air India had been feeding us frequently for the previous twelve hours or so.
Since we spent most of our time in India at a beautiful but oven-less ashram just outside a very small village on the Narmada River , obtaining Indian pizza was going to require travel. Getting the first pizza took a mere twenty-minute automobile ride to the nearest small city – Bharuch, in Gujarat state.
Lillian was busy the afternoon Cary and three friends did a shopping run to Bharuch, and so she missed out on the experience. She has not regretted this.
While Cary and three American friends were shopping, he started asking locals where to find good pizza. Cary doesn’t speak Gujarati, but “pizza, shubh pizza” wasn’t too tough…
Everyone he asked pointed to a second-floor restaurant on Station Road. Obviously, this place, the R Trupti Restaurant, was the local’s idea of pizza. Strategically waiting for lunchtime, Cary convinced his friends that R Trupti was the place to go.
The First Pizza
Our group climbed the flight of stairs to the restaurant and were greeted by the very personable staff. They showed us to a table, gave us menus –
– and that’s when it all went south.
You see, when Lillian and Cary visit a pizzeria, we usually stay pretty quiet about it. If we mention this website at all, it’s at the end of the meal, after we’ve sampled the wares and decided to write about it.
But Lil wasn’t there, and Cary hadn’t explained the policy to our friends.
“Hey,” our friend Mike H. said to the waiter as Cary was looking over the menu, “this guy’s a big pizza critic from the U.S.! He can make your place famous on the Internet!”
The waiter nodded, possibly understanding.
“What are you doing, Mike?”
“I’m trying to get you a discount!”
“Mike, the pizza costs less than two bucks. I don’t need a discount. Besides,” he chided, “we just don’t do that.”
“Please pay no attention,” Cary told the owner, who had suddenly appeared at our table. “I just want to try one or two of your pizzas.”
The owner nodded. Cary opened the menu and pointed out their “Cheese Pizza” and a “Veggie Pizza” thinking that going basic would be a wise choice. A flurry of activity ensued. The owner sent one of the staff down to the street.
Thirty minutes later we were still unfed, as the staff member returned with a bag of fresh vegetables. Apparently, Mike had been understood and I was to be given special treatment. So it took 45 minutes for us to get our first pizza in India.
In the interim, Cary asked to see their pizza oven.
Since gas ovens are expensive and wood is not a primary source of fuel, they have two electric ovens at R Trupti, in which they place par-baked flatbreads. Cary thought of pastry shells, which turned out to be fairly accurate.
Let’s take a moment to say that, based on the account of our friends who didn’t have pizza, the Indian food at R Trupti is first-rate. They make a delicious Uttapam, for example, which is flat and round, and what Cary should have ordered.
The actual pizza, however, was not good.
We’ve often said that, in our opinion, it’s the dough that makes the pizza. This pizza was made with what tasted like biscuit flour. No chew, no char, no taste. The toppings were surprisingly bland – the veggie pizza had very fresh veggies (see above) and chopped chili peppers; there was heat but no light. The cheese was likewise tasteless. Cary wanted to like the pizza here, but, as a dear Indian friend of ours would say, “Nothing doing.”
They did try to make it special for Cary – but putting Maraschino cherries on the pizza was definitely heading in the wrong direction.
The Second Pizza
Several weeks later we visited Mt. Abu in Rajasthan State, a mountain town in a state known for being mostly flat desert. In addition to having some awesome temples (and we mean awesome in the original sense) and breathtaking scenery, Mt. Abu is also a tourist destination complete with lovely curio shops, tacky souvenir shops and, of course, pizza.
This time we were both present and we decided to go for an Indian pizza chain called, interestingly, U.S. Pizza.
In many Indian cities, U.S. Pizza is a sit-down eatery, but the one in Mt. Abu is a pizza stand where you can buy your pizza and eat in the street. They make ingenious use of a small space – in the picture, a mysterious hand from above is giving fresh pizza pans to the counterman/pizzamaker.
We did not order their Margherita (advertised on their menu as “Cheeeeeesy, juicy pizza for the young & tasteful”). Somehow, that description of a Margherita didn’t grab us.
And here’s what we saw at the condiments counter:
Yessir, ground red pepper, oregano, and … exactly what you think it is.
We decided to try a more Indian style and ordered the Jalandhar Tandoori Pizza (“Traditional Punjabi makhan masala with onion, green pepper, paneer, tomato in cheese”), and we decided to share a small one. This set us back 135 rupees (three bucks American).
For the price, it wasn’t bad. The toppings were fresh and tasty, it had just enough spice to make it interesting, but again – the dough tasted like it was made with biscuit flour!
It finally dawned on us that the first pizzas in India came from Pizza Hut, which set the standard for all Indian pizza thereafter. Because, as the Pizza Cognition Theory states, your first taste of pizza determines how you define pizza forever. And millions of Indians have been taught that Pizza Hut is the standard for pizza.
Sigh. We’d have been happier with Naan, cheese and tomatoes.