Tough but fair pizza professor
I moved to Hong Kong in 2018 and didn’t know much about the city at that time. As I was sitting in the bus from the airport to the city, one of the questions that randomly popped up in my head was whether I would even be able to find a pizzeria here. It didn’t seem that obvious to me in that moment! So as the bus was navigating through the districts, I observed a high number of pizza chains, but almost no Italian restaurants. This started to worry me even more. From that day on, I have been on the lookout for pizzerias across the city and I quickly noticed that the pizza variety is much bigger than I first thought! As I started to talk to locals about their favorite pizza places, I expanded my knowledge, but I also realized that there are a lot of misconceptions about this dish. And this is when I realized that I want to analyze Hong Kong’s pizza market a bit deeper. On a random trip to Cheung Chau in August 2018, while sitting at “Fresh Basil Pizza”, I created the @profdrpizza Instagram page and started recording my pizza experiences. It was the birth of Prof. Dr. Pizza!
What are the elements for a 10/10 score?
Dough Texture: +1
The very first element that usually hits me when I get a pizza served is the texture of the dough, i.e. the crust. It’s supposed to be rustical and crusty, not smooth and clinical. Even though I don’t expect a Neapolitan style pizza, I would still always like to find some kind of burned and charred pattern on the surface. The colors are important as well: the crust needs to reflect the enormous pain that the dough experiences inside the piping hot pizza oven. It shall not remain pale! If these criteria are met, the pizza score increases by +1.
Dough Consistency: +1
Consistency describes the ratio between the satisfying crispiness of the crust’s surface and the fluffiness of the dough. I expect the dough to be prepared in a way that allows it to blow up a bit on the edges while burning in the oven, and produce nice air bubbles. Many restaurants are purely focused on looks and taste, but lack the knowledge or are not willing to put in the effort to achieve nice dough consistency. If a place gets the right fluff & crisp into the crust, it’s a +1 on my score.
Dough Freshness: +1
Besides the texture and consistency, freshness is one of the key factors. A pizza can have a beautiful texture and a good consistency, but if it doesn’t taste nice and fresh then the satisfaction is just not the same. Pizzerias that make their dough on the spot are in great advantage here. However, I don’t think it’s an absolute necessity to knead the dough on the same day as making the pizza. In many cases it’s simply not possible to operate on a larger scale without freezing the dough some time in between. However, a frozen dough can still be either fresh or not fresh – it’s a matter of how carefully it was prepared and handled. In the end, you as a pizza lover will definitely be able to assess the dough freshness in its taste.
Toppings Quality: +1
A pizza without a great dough cannot become a perfect pie, but it can still score highly on other dimensions. One of these dimensions is the quality of the toppings. When I say “quality” I primarily mean the way of how the toppings are produced, their freshness, source etc. One of the most frequent comparisons that can be made is for the Mozzarella cheese, because it is part of almost every pie. It can be dry & artificial or it can be fresh & authentic, or anything in between. Same applies to all other toppings: I’d much rather have a Pizza Marinara with authentic, high-quality tomato sauce only than a Parma & Rocket Pizza with dry and tasteless ham.
Toppings Looks: +1
Let’s be honest: we all eat not only with our mouths, but also with our eyes – don’t we? Although the looks only contribute to 1 out of 10 points, it can never become a perfect score if the toppings do not look appealing. But there is one very important thing to note: arranging the toppings randomly is not the same thing as arranging the toppings carelessly. Some of the most beautiful pizzas result from a random, free-spirited arrangement, as long as it is done with heart and mindfulness. I am not asking for a the perfect artificial symmetry. It needs to come from an authentic soul. The experienced pizza eaters among us will be able to tell only by the toppings’ looks whether the pie came from such an authentic soul or not.
Overall Taste: +3
We need to be quite frank here: all the previously discussed quality factors are important and build the foundation of a good pizza – however, they don’t mean very much if the overall taste does not meet the expectations. In fact, there is a good chance that quality factors will lead to a better overall taste, but not necessarily. Therefore it is always important for pizza makers to ask for customers’ feedback when it comes to the final output that lands on the table: the taste of the pizza. Having said that, even low quality pizzas can get a mediocre score if they manage to meet a satisfactory flavor. For me it’s really important to be very honest and distinct here: a pizza does NOT have to be perfectly executed in order to taste great!
Overall Authenticity & Specialness: +1
This one might not be as straightforward as the previous 8 covered points, but it doesn’t mean that it’s less important. This element focuses on the heart, soul and personality of the pizza (yes, you read it right, pizza can have a personality). It refers to certain underlying factors that make you say “wow this is quite special” or “now this is a real authentic pizza”. Authenticity does not necessarily have to be related to a Neapolitan origin. Much more important is the degree of passion and dedication that is put into crafting the pizza. Only from looks, smell and a few bites, one can already determine whether the pie was prepared in a mechanical way or rather with real heart or with a special mindset.
Overall Favorability: +1
We are all different, and as much as we try to stay objective and factual, there is something within us that drives a certain inexplicable preference. Even if a pizza does not meet various quality standards or does not appear as anything special, in some way it might capture my attention in a certain way and I’d describe it as very satisfying. You might pick a totally different type of pie that triggers your favorability, but it might not trigger me on the other hand. This +1 relates to this type of favorability. Let’s all appreciate the many different pizza styles and our preferences – this is why we will always be able to talk and argue about this wonderful dish 🙂