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Swedish Pizza

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The freedom to create in excess without any limitations of taste is a dream for artists of a certain temperament. Where work of extraordinary dreamlike disorientation is created for the Absurd Man and Woman, lacking the usual pretense, as the person who executes the art is not necessarily in control: Where sometimes strange things happen by themselves, or due to external commercial powers, or at random, or by mistake.

Remember how the first generation of surrealists worshipped at the altar of the Marx Brothers. Then consider how the absurd conduct of mainstream celebrities (Bobby Fischer, Michael Jackson, Demi Moore, Charlie Sheen etc.) reach real-life pinnacles of Ionesco-esque exquisite meaninglessness. Then reflect upon how much of the media chatter around us can seem like pure dada.

In Sweden, its culinary landscape has created - out of necessity and osmosis - a national blanket of works of art that reach such a deeply fucked surreal and counter-intuitive culinary splendor that the most absurd creations by high-concept experimental artists, experimental chefs or artist-chef-experimental-weirdos wither in comparison.

Swedish Pizza.

The rudimentary basic here is a wide variety of combinations of toppings that are given mysterious or enticing monikers on the menu of the pizzeria. These names correspond in a mannerism-fashion to Italy and exoticism not unlike how a tiki-bar relates to the lives of Micronesian natives. These pizzas don't really have that much to do with stuff like the California Pizza Kitchen, or those grim UK/Oz gastro-pub pizzas, except for shared notions o the picturesque, Swedish pizza is its own thing, based on convoluted notions of exotica and on the base cravings that can attach themselves to base commerce.

Swedish pizzas have names like

"Jamaica"
"Acapulco"
"Banana Special"
"Big Ben"
"Princessia"
"Profomata" (?)
"Nice Special"
"Golden Horn"

and the pies contain toppings/ingredients such as

Bearnaise Sauce

Kebab meat

Banana

French Fries

Guacamole

Taco Spice Mix

and

Peanuts

but hey, let's go straight to actualities:

Tomato sauce!
Cheese!
Ham!
Banana!
Pineapple!
Raw Onion!
Kebab White Sauce!

(that would be Pizza Regement Special from Pizzeria California in Simrishamn)

Tomato sauce!
Cheese!
Mushrooms!
Onions!
Bell Peppers!
Kebab!
Pepperoncini!
Bearnaise Sauce!

(that would be Pizza Bikini from Pizzeria Gudfather in Orebro)

Tomato sauce!
Cheese!
Clementines!
Pineapple!
Mushrooms!
Bolognese Sauce!

(that would be Pizza Dennis from Pizzeria Rimini in Gothenburg)

Tomato sauce!
Cheese!
Zucchini!
Eggplant!
Banana!
Curry!

(that would be Pizza Stocksund Special from Pizzeria Nya Stocksund in Stocksund)

Tomato sauce!
Cheese!
Ham!
Mushrooms!
Crab!
Bolognese Sauce!
Tuna!
Shrimp!
Bacon!
Capers!
Pineapple!
Bell Peppers!
Artichoke!

(that would be Pizza Maritza Special from Pizzeria Maritza in Simrishamn)

It is hard to understand how all this began, but I have a couple of theories: There's plentiful anecdotal evidence that the first slew of 30-odd pizza restaurants that opened in Sweden were all owned by the same family, who saw a splendid business opportunity notwithstanding that their ethnic culinary roots weren't in the dish purveyed. Therefore, any authenticity and ethnic integrity of the dish offered went into immediate free-fall, as the inherent understanding that we all have within us in regards to the traditional foods of our country of origin were very much not at all in place here. Instead, anything anyone ever wanted as a pizza-topping at any point (including when very drunk) was unceremoniously placed upon the pie, notwithstanding how people from Naples or Rome or New York City or the Jersey Shore would feel about its interplay with a culinary tradition.

It snowballed/escalated from here: Anything that seemed exotic or exclusive would end up as a culinary titillation: something that seemed like a good idea to eat at the time.
Since a pizzeria is/was an easy and inexpensive restaurant to start up - great profit margin, not much need for culinary know-how - Swedish pizza was well on its way to becoming the abject culinary absurdity it is today.

I do love everything about Swedish pizza, the general weirdness, the exotica narrative, the ceremonial naming of the pies, the economics of necessity. I love it all, with the exception of the actual eating of the pizza.

Wait.

That's not entirely true.

The aroma of the Swedish 'gräddost' cheese - used instead of mozzarella on the pizza - when toasted and/or burnt distributes a most enticing scent, and like most absurd junk-foods, when consumed in adulthood have more to do with the distant dreamlike echoes of childhood memories than anything else. I mean: Once a year it can seem like a good idea to purchase a can of Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, at least until the realization that the tin can contains shiny gelatinous glop sauce and the microcosm White Castle burgers of the ravioli pillows, resulting in your caveat emptor nausea flipping back into place. I have an Italian friend who eats at McDonalds. There are California Pizza Kitchen restaurants in Manhattan, within a rock throw of genius old school pizza joints.

You get the point.

Whenever I visit the old country I canvas the country side for pizza takeout menus, and my family are still (somewhat) delighted by the long-running in-joke of poetic/oratorical declamations of the most absurd concoctions I've found:

Tomato sauce!
Cheese!
Chicken!
Pineapple!
Banana!
Peanuts!
Curry!

(that would be Pizza Al Pollo from Pizzeria Central in Orebro)

Tomato sauce!
Cheese!
Bolognese Sauce!
Mushrooms!
Pineapple!

(that would be Pizza Hangover Special from Pizzeria Skåne Fagerhult in Fagerhult)

Tomato sauce!
Cheese!
Ham!
Chicken!
Banana!
Peanuts!
Curry!

(that would be Pizza Italia (!) from Pizzeria Roma in Tomelilla)

Tomato sauce!
Cheese!
Mashed Potatoes!
Filet Mignon!
Mushrooms!
Sliced Tomatoes!
Onions!
Bearnaise Sauce!

(that would be Pizza Oxplank from Pizzeria Roma in Tomelilla)

and here, the top five most baffling:

Tomato sauce!
Cheese!
Chicken!
Wild Mushrooms!
Raisins!
Peanuts!
Banana!
Curry!

(that would be Pizza Hajk from Pizzeria Värmland in Orebro)

Tomato sauce!
Cheese!
Canned Fruit Cocktail!
Chocolate!

(that would be Pizza Fruit from Pizzeria Mini Mac in Gothenburg

Tomato sauce!
Cheese!
Swedish Meatballs!
Kebabmeat!
Onions!
Bell Peppers!
Bearnaise Sauce!
Salami!

(that would be Pizza Eriksson from Pizzeria Kronoparken in Karlstad)

Tomato sauce!
Cheese!
Duck!
Chanterelles!
Black Currants!
Honey!

(that would be Pizza A La Duck from Pizzeria Bosporen in Leksand)

Tomato sauce!
Cheese!
Pork Tenderloin!
Shrimp!
Gorgonzola!
Pineapple!
Curry!

(that would be Pizza Chicago from Pizzeria Alfågeln in Waxholm)

A somewhat odious aspect of the new sincerity movement is that artisan foodstuffs have become luxury goods, rarified purchases that act as lifestyle accessories by connoisseurs. This notwithstanding how said new sincerity connoisseurs make squeaky-balloon-noises about sustainability, grass-roots-activism and locavourism. In Sweden, this has lead to regional cheeses, meats, vegetables, berries etc. nowadays are mostly only available as luxury goods, and that a landscape formerly littered with regional small-scale food producers and purveyors and restaurants that were cheap and great has had said domain ersatzed by big-city folk in a desperate luxury-consumption quest for authenticity.

Years ago, I went on a massive Swedish road trip with my pal Jesper. We were in pursuit of medieval churches with intact mural paintings, and for some tasty items along the way.
After having slaked our thirst for the nostalgic trashy Swedish fast-food we'd been craving since we left the old country for the new world (boiled frankfurters with mashed potatoes, mustard, ketchup, deepfried onions and chopped bread & butter pickles in mayonnaise is one of the less bizarre of said cravings), we really only wanted to concentrate on Swedish traditional peasant food, so called husmanskost.

Bupkis.

Few and far in between, always in bigger cities, and always with big ticket price tags for meals that for centuries before had fed those Swedes that weren't affluent. So what does non-affluent Swedes in the countryside eat these days if they don't eat at home? Well: There's plenty of crap Thai food. Thailand is the dominant Swedish fun-in-the-sun vacation destination for some reason. There's also an abundance of pseudo-classy grill-fat type stuff: béarnaise sauce served as a condiment in tabletop pump containers, sullen salads with sun-dried tomatoes and Greek-austerity feta, you know the drill. Exotica is rampant, and as the Swedes have had access to cheap chartered travels for a few decades, for Swedes to indicate towards an international worldliness has become a norm of lower-middle class betterment, especially when it comes to choices in foodstuffs. Mediterranean flourishes, a taste of the far east, and the hollow gesture of healthiness has replaced the rudimentary Swedish peasant fare, except, naturally, for the aspiring urban middle class who now chow down on those peasant classics as a symbol of keeping-it-real-refinement now that the great unwashed is traveling to Italy and Thailand.

The Swedish pizzerias are legion, however, and indications towards culinary ahead-of-the-curve-ness and bourgeois affluence have started to prevail at pizzerias in moneyed neighborhoods:

Tomato sauce! Cheese! Arugula! Prosciutto! Sundried Tomatoes! Capers! Honey!

(that would be Pizza Parma from Pizzeria Bosporen in Leksand)

Tomato sauce! Cheese! Sliced Tomatoes! Olives! Fresh Mozzarella! Prosciutto! Sea Salt! Olive Oil!

(that would be Pizza Le Chef from Pizzeria Malaren in Strangnas)

I am pretty sure that the pizzeria is a secret shame of the Swedish bourgoisie, and that pizzas with arugula or sea salt as toppings are supposed to relieve some of their pain.
For exceptionally melancholic, entertaining and perverse reasons, I've located Swedish husmanskost ingredients as pizza toppings. I found these surreal dream-states on the menu of Pizzeria Station in Hallsberg:

"Edwin's":

Tomato sauce! Cheese! Swedish Meatballs! Onions! Pickled Beets in Mayonnaise!

"Affe's":

Tomato sauce! Cheese! Swedish Meatballs! Onions! Chopped Pickles in Mayonnaise!

"Berggös":

Tomato sauce! Cheese! Bratwurst! Eggs! Leeks!

One might, and one could argue that James Joyce in his writing attempted to incorporate the human experience in its totality in the writing of Ulysses. One might furthermore also suggest that Samuel Beckett chose to disconnect from the human experience in Malone Dies or Molloy. Could a similar dichotomy be structured for pizza?

The New Jersey/Bronx grandma pie which emphasizes the relationship between the dough and a slow-cooked tomato sauce, often without the addition of any mozzarella, results in an ascetic pizza experience where the limited notes and timbres the palate is reacting to increases the nuances of said food-aesthetic reaction. This I chose to set as the Beckettian counterpoint to number 58 at Pizzeria Parken in Orebro where a Joyceian masterpiece of sorts is offered up, as every pizza topping available is placed on top of the dough and baked in the oven to subsequently be served up to Gargantua and Pantagruel as a sine qua non of the cooking grotesque. Here it is, number 58:

Tomato sauce! Cheese! Ham! Shrimp! Tuna! Salami! Mushrooms! Meat Sauce! Onions! Pineapple! Bacon! Mussels! Banana! Curry! Eggs! Pepperoncini! Bell Peppers! Crab-stick! Cayenne Pepper! Olives! Pork Tenderloin! Garlic! Pico de Gallo! Pickled Green Chili! Jalapeno! White Kebab Sauce! Taco spice mix! Gyros! Bearnaise Sauce! Sliced Tomatoes! Shredded Iceberg Lettuce! French Fries! Asparagus! Chicken! Gorgonzola! Leeks! Squash! Corn! Feta! Tzatziki! Red Onion! Parmeggiano!

Are you hungry yet?

Not really?

My favorite scene in Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel is where Pantagruel arrives late to a monastery and is famished. He decides to go to sleep in the surrounding spinach pasture, but not until after he has chowed down. Unluckily, some deeply religious pilgrims have chosen the same spinach patch to sleep in, and are mercilessly eaten by Pantagruel who doesn't notice them as the pilgrims are so spiritual as to not make a sound as they get eaten, Pantagruel mistakes them for extra-chunky crutons.

Is this how Swedish pizza works?

Through distraction?

What Pantagruel would chow down on at Pizzeria Parken is interpreted by him as pizza, and the chowing down process and the intermingling of disparate and grotesque flavors isn't that noticeable? Maybe the act of ordering the luxuriously named pie with its myriad of toppings is a petit mort of yearning in an everyday that is devoid of exoticism, in a small country in the far north with a chilly climate and the ever-distant souls of xenophobic peoples?

The notion of choice in tangent with convenience has brought about a culinary narrative that is perpetual and perennial, but where it doesn't matter if the food is tasty or not.
A recent study on customer satisfaction at McDonalds showed that people were satisfied eating there but no one really liked the food much. They liked the process, of recognizing the food, the taste, the surroundings, but the food itself not such much.

Is that it?

The Swedish pizza is recognizable, but yet the myriad combinations of tomato sauce, cheese, banana, capers, chicken, ham, guacamole, onions etc. etc. very much ad nauseum provides a pleasant process of selection, choices, exoticism and naming.

We people like choosing, especially in this Facebookian day and age (another riff/story), and we also like naming and compartmentalizing things a whole hell of a lot. I don't have to go all anthropology on my ass, but think of the naming of things and the naming of their corresponding gods in early (so called) primitive societies. Tree Gods, River Gods, Forest Gods, Animal Gods, go down the list, think of Catholic Saints, think of Roman Gods. Think of sub-cultural slang: skateboarders - the myriad names for a myriad of maneuvers. Fly-fishing. We really like to name stuff and to compartmentalize stuff.

Think of it: Friday night, you are plowed, you stumble through the doors of a Pizzeria somewhere in small town Sweden, and your scrambled eyeballs dance across the menu. The Imp/Id that steers your intoxicated food-craving is begging your central nervous system for béarnaise, meat, spicy heat, goo, crisped dough, for something special, for the food that lives inside dreams:

"I want... I want... I want...

a PIZZA MORINO!"

(Tomato sauce! Cheese! Guacamole! Horse sausage! Bell Peppers!)

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