Hungry for more? Catch 'The Pizza Show' Tuesday nights at 8.30PM on SBS VICELAND and via SBS On Demand I can remember being drunk at a high school party and loitering over the forgotten cardboard pizza boxes. Lifting lids and devouring slices in a blind-state lucky dip. This was like a spiritual Russian roulette for me, because I'm Muslim, and although I drink more then even Rumi could describe, I at least try not to eat pork. Because that's haram. And because I'm a hypocrite. But sure enough, one of the slices stood apart from the rest. It was saltier, it tasted like home somehow. There were eggs on it.
Tomato, cheese, ham, bacon and eggs. And if you really want to level up to cork hat 'Strayan, add pineapples too. To some, these are just breakfast ingredients. To Australians, they signify the poetry and ecstasy of our national pizza. The "Aussie" was invented by the late Salvatore Della Bruna, the Picasso of Australia's pizza heritage who established this country's first pizza parlour, Toto's on Melbourne's Lygon Street.
Della Bruna gifted us with the perfect culinary emblem and culturally satisfying delicacy: a pizza that conjured up the cheeky Australian spirit with its controversial, somewhat lowbrow toppings. The "Aussie" is a special pizza that blurs the mealtime lines of when it's appropriate to eat. It attracts that emotional kind of hunger, a craving somewhere between breakfast hungriness and hangover desperation.
My mate Chris described it perfectly when I spoke to him about our shared love for the "Aussie". "It's the pizza you have when you're half pissed and realise it's a fucking godsend, then when you're at the local strip of shops a week later, sober, you have a punt because you remember that fateful mad Monday and you take her back home and the revelation comes. It wasn't just because you were pissed…Aussie pizzas are what this country is made of."
Contemplating those wise words and sitting alone at Toto's Pizza House, now owned by Sami Mazloum, I note the fading essence of Bruna's dream. Lygon street is now littered with pizza shops, complete with a range of new "connoisseurs" who are devoted to the "traditional" thin crust with sparse toppings style of pizza, equating authenticity with superiority. It's a notion my upbringing of foil-wrapped garlic bread and salivating menu items such as BBQ Meatlovers, wholeheartedly detests.
In a documentary about Lygon St for SBS, Della Bruna explained the cultural transgressions of the "Aussie". "If my father, who was a great pizza maker, saw me make a pizza with pineapple, he would kill me," he said. The issue of pineapple on pizza has recently been quite topical, and a lot of pizza shops actually don't put pineapple on their "Aussie". It's a topping that's sometimes reserved for the infamous Hawaiian. For me though, it's essential.
Pineapples are a refreshing pop of sweetness in the tomato + meat + cheese equation. We love pineapples in Australia: we even have a monument called the Big Pineapple. It's like the Eiffel Tower, but more Australian. Not as wanky, like eggplant or potatoes on pizza. (Seriously. Get over yourselves. I live in the suburbs, where we have gourmet pizzas that you don't have to pretend to enjoy—like tandoori chicken, and greek lamb with tzatziki.)
Sitting in Toto's, I watched a man in a suit eating a prosciutto pizza that looked like something Matt Preston would stroke his chin to. I was nervous Bruna's dream had diminished and succumbed to the allure of gentrification, but I was wrong. They remembered my pineapples. The fake ham and bacon was the exotic shredded stuff that you can never find in bougie delis. The base was perfecto, à la Domino's masterful ratio. And the eggs were certainly not free-range.
Creating the Aussie pizza would have required a sacrifice of Bruna's roots. The sparse approach of Italian pizza making is forgotten in the name of multiculturalism. By integrating Australia's burger-with-the-lot aesthetic, Salvatore was revelling in his creative freedoms unwatched by Italy's pizza police.
I spoke to the coach of my old cricket team about why he thought "Aussie" pizzas were a mandatory staple of his Thursday night meetings. Notting Hill is a suburban cricket club that basically reserves a special spot for enthusiasts that know every text book letter of the sport but can't seem to translate it to the wicket. Jason, my coach, had his red and black flannel shirt unbuttoned just enough to tease out his navy blue wife beater. A power move? Or maybe he wanted to let me know how serious he was about "Aussie" pizzas.
"I grew up on a farm outside of Lilydale. On special occasions, Dad would bring home a couple of pizzas, the super Supreme and my favourite the 'Aussie'. I have mine without pineapple; the old school way. A lot of people probably think, it's the marketing, using a name like 'Aussie' that made it popular. It's not. It tastes Aussie. Couple it with a VB and I'm back in my old house, with mum prepping the pav to come. It's a homely pizza, mate. There's something homely about eggs on pizza."
The pineapple is controversial enough, but I also wonder what it was about bacon and eggs that sparked Salvatore's curiosity. The classic breakfast combination is actually a result of a 1920s marketing campaign by American pork manufacturer Beech-Nut. Master propagandist Edward Bernays was hired to convince the American public that a heavy portion of bacon and eggs was the healthiest option in the morning. He commissioned a fairly unscientific study to prove it, and the rest is history.
In Australia, we altered the American formula a touch. We salivate like Pavlov's dogs to the thought of egg and bacon rolls, which are traditionally fried eggs and crispy bacon with cheese and a combination of either tomato and or barbecue sauce.
See, the brekkie roll is more than just a heavy breakfast. It's a battler's sanga on the go. I wonder if one winter morning in the late 70s, Bruna walked outside his Lygon Street pizzeria and watched a few tradies hovered over their worksite barbie, sizzling up some brekkie rolls to go. Deconstructing it; bacon, eggs, cheese, tomato sauce while making it his own with a sprinkle of fresh Australian pineapple. Follow Mahmood on Twitter and Instagram