Why doesn’t Hong Kong have good pizza?

pizza hong kong best HK
Born in Italy, perfected in New York!

If you ask a transplanted New Yorker, what’s the best pizza in Hong Kong? They’ll surely answer: there isn’t any!

Not all pizzas were created equal
Though pizza originated in Naples, Italy, it was popularized, internationalized and significantly innovated on by Italian immigrants who settled in New York. Selling pizza by the slice for example, is a New World creation. The standard New York pizza of today is sort of a larger, more affluent cousin to the pizza from Naples.

While endless varieties of pizza exist, the measuring stick of modern pizza is New York pizza. And it is New York pizza that is astonishingly absent from Hong Kong.

You call that pizza?
The type of pizza offered in Hong Kong won’t even fit a New Yorker’s standard definition of pizza. If they see it, they’ll begin to rattle off a string of adjectives just to help them classify the limp, ultra-thin, Italian-style pizzas, or things like the “personal pizza”. To them, this is not real pizza.

New Yorkers think of pizza either by the pie or by the slice. Typical pies come in either small or large sizes and are at least around 18″ inches round in diameter. Slices are derived from these pies.

Hong Kong pizza pizzeria HK

There’s even a special way to eat it – by folding a slice in half and holding it in one hand. Want to eat two slices at once? No problem! Have a look at John Travolta doing just that in the opening sequence of Saturday Night Fever! (Fast forward to 50 seconds if you want to skip to the point!)

The jerks took away the music… “Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk, I’m a woman’s man, no time to talk…”

While Hong Kong has numerous chains and individual restaurants that offer “pizza”, there’s not a single place in town that can satisfy your craving for a decent slice. (While a few of them look the part, they fail miserably with poor quality cheese and sauce.)

NY pizza Hong Kong HK

What’s the secret ingredient to New York pizza?
The judge of a real pizza is a basic Margherita slice with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and a little basil – none of this Peking duck or gourmet stuff. Pizza is simply dough, mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce, olive oil and a few seasonings. Again, it’s like with burgers, you don’t need all sorts of fancy stuff if you use good quality basic ingredients.

So why is it so difficult to replicate? Let’s take a step back into time. Traditionally, the pizzeria was a family business. The name of the place was usually the name of the proprietor – i.e. Sal’s, Carmine’s, Joe & Pat’s etc. No Italian wants someone saying bad things about them or their family, so they had to do a good job!

In contrast, restaurants offering Italian food in Hong Kong exist mostly as “concepts”. This means the owner is a restaurant group looking to open a new space. They don’t actually have a commitment or deep knowledge of the type of cuisine they’re offering.

I’d say that the two missing ingredients are the invisible qualities of pride and love. There’s no love or pride that goes into the pizza here. Restaurants peddling Western food such as pizza are simply broken down into a formula to make money, and as a result of that, you lose the hidden qualities that often accompany a business carrying a family name. Soho is rife with concepts that just apply the same formula to different ethnic cuisines. The result is often mediocre food, with little authenticity, and people hovering over you asking “still or sparkling?”

Pizza by the slice – the perfect urban food?
The slice actually fits Hong Kong’s on-the-run lifestyle perfectly. Like the hot-dog, it can be eaten on-the-go. To open a successful pizza place, perhaps the strategy should be re-engineered. Selling pizza by the slice in a take-away format could emulate the recent success of “bubble tea” stands, and match how places like Ireland’s Potatoes do business.

One could open up a counter in a high foot traffic location such as Causeway Bay or Mongkok, and instead of offering a sit-down, eat-in restaurant, just have take-out. If your pizza is good enough, people will drive to your restaurant just to pick up their pies. Unless you’re in a neighborhood with cheap rent, it’s hard to justify the square feet for the price of a slice. Switch to the take-away equation, and you may find an easier road to profitability.

An opportunity for entrepreneurs?
While all the copycats were busy opening up burger joints around town last year, how come no one thought to open up a new pizza place? Pizza is actually conducive to building a business around. It’s a several ingredient food, that can be broken down into a simple menu. This allows restaurateurs the ability to streamline the process, and to buy ingredients in bulk. You can also create pies that will meet multiple tastes. Toppings allow customization at the final stage and are relatively easy to do.

Slices of pizza are also marketable in ‘sets’. I can imagine something like two (real) slices and a Coke for $78 HKD.

Life without good pizza…
For people in H.K. that have been exposed to good pizza and grown accustomed to it, this is a major flaw in the city’s quality of life. In fact, there are some who say that until this pizza problem is resolved, Hong Kong can’t claim to be an international city.

best_pizza_in_Hong_Kong_HK2

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40 Comments

  • Spike says:

    Someone from Chicago might take issue with your statement that NY pizza is the best. But I’m from New York.

    Anyway, you obviously haven’t tried Paisano’s in Sai Kung. Italian guy from Brooklyn makes his own dough, makes his own sauce, imported cheese, sausage, pepperoni, etc. It’s not really authentic NY pizza but as close as I’ve found here.

  • IMO Pizza Box qualifies as “decent” as long as you stick to the basics. Get a meat lovers with normal crust and sauce, and it satisfies my occasional pizza urges. Stay away from the stupid cheese crusts and whacky sauces, and by all means avoid Pizza Hut, and it’s not THAT bad here.

    That being said, I have never had a REALLY good NY style pizza.

    California Kitchen sucks.

  • GZ Expat says:

    Well, you need to head across the border to Guangzhou and have some pizza here. Give Danny’s a try for a bit of the American style. Head to Buongiorno for the Italian style.

  • Administrator says:

    Hi Spike,

    That’s exactly what I’m talking about – an “Italian guy from Brooklyn” who makes his own dough, sauce etc.. I’d expect a certain level of authenticity and high standards from a guy like that.

    I’ll check it out on my next trip to Sai Kung!

    Chicago pizza is definitely a variant. I know this is going to be a controversial topic!

  • a. says:

    omg Carl pizza box??!?! really??!?! LOL.

    We were just discussing this the other day, when I was complaining to P that I wanted a single slice of pizza on a white paper plate. New York Pizzah was the closest thing! I want to try this spot in Sai Kung now though…

  • steven chan says:

    ny pie is the best. just had a few at Company (Co.) at Chelsea.
    Chicago style? great pie too, but it’s exactly that, a pie. not pizza.

  • 5 Boroughs says:

    HK will never have authentic NY pizza unless they start importing NYC tap. The reason why pizza doesn’t taste the same out of NY is due to the water used with the dough. That’s why the bagels are different there as well. NY has the best tasting water in the world straight from the tap. Even if you had all the other great ingredients without the NYC tap it doesn’t come out the same.

  • chung says:

    great pictures. I remember $.99 slices… drool

  • e_ting says:

    I’m no pizza expert but there are a couple of factors worth mentioning:
    1. Dough – it takes skill – these ‘concepts’ you mentioned try to do without it – they want to make sure that the restaurant will still be “consistent” if a chef leaves. The place Spike mentioned might be eliminate that factor – sounds awesome.
    2. Ovens – by HK law real wood fired ovens aren’t allowed in restaurants – you’ll never get the same type of heat with gas.

    People talk about water, flour etc., but you can buy that stuff. You can even control humidity and room temp if you wanna go down that route, but if you ask me it’s about skill & fire. (And 5 Boroughs – “NY has the best tasting water in the world straight from the tap” um, have you been to New Zealand? And it’s not just the quality of the water itself, it’s your pipes too…)

  • fernando says:

    “Pride and love.” You nailed it! Behind any great pizzeria is a great pizzaioli.

    It’s easy to see how the concept restauranteurs get it wrong, they buy in cheap ingredients, put a line cook with no passion at a pizza station and rely on patrons with a low passion for a well cooked pizza.

    But, having worked in pizzerias and cooked more than a few at home over the years, a great pizza is a deceptive thing. Ripe, flavourful tomatoes, good cheese, well made dough and a really good oven might be all that’s involved, but skimp on any of them and the results speak for themselves.

    “Pride and love,” just can’t be faked.

  • alex says:

    great article. moved back from LA last year and i feel there is a lack of quality pizza around this area.

    some say it’s the water, and yes, people say the reason why NY pizza tastes so great is because of its tap water — even places in LA started using water filtration systems to mimic their cousins in NY. (i tend to think it’s 70% marketing and 30% truth, but i beg to differ).

    i think great pizza can be achieved in HK, but it will really take some dedicated restaurateurs to understand the product instead of trying to make a quick buck. fresh ingredients are key — and if you were to get sweet, ripe tomatoes, aromatic cheeses — these all have to be imported and just a visit to citysuper will have you wondering what a real, fresh pizza would cost.

    on the other hand.. “gourmet” pizza places like babbo (nyc) and mozza (la) have been very inspiring. i think there’d be a market for those in HK.. thoughts?

  • Fred says:

    NY pizza by the slice used to exist. Hart Avenue, 1992-1995 (approx). Was great.

    Maybe its time for a re-try.

  • brian says:

    Pizza in HK is probably geared towards HK ppl taste. Sometimes it works sometimes it dont. Look at KFC its certainly different to what you would find in the US and pizza hut omg they serve so much stuff you cant get in US. If you explain abit more about a typical new york magarita and the taste texture etc then we may understand what you mean. I personally liek italian stoned baked thin crust pizzas…..and sometimes chicago deep dish, where the cheese is on the bottom not the top.

  • Frank Rich says:

    I’ve had the best pizza NYC has to offer including about a dozen different Ray’s (Famous, Original, World-Famous Original, you name it). Sadly, none of those compare to the innovative pizza found in Hong Kong.

    Margherita sauce? Maybe if you were still in elementary school. There’s no pizza better than one using thousand island dressing as the base. I have only had that in Hong Kong, and man, is it good! Add some steamed calamari and you got yourselves a hit! Now if they only start serving chicken feet as a topping, now that would be real pizza!

  • pam says:

    Great article. You forgot corn meal on the bottom of the pan, adds a wonderful texture to the bottom of the crust. Also NUNZIO’s on S.I., N.Y.

  • Miss J says:

    Posto’s Sausage Pizza is amazing. It’s the best here in Hong Kong.
    And I’m a pizza freak.

  • Administrator says:

    Hi Miss J,

    I didn’t see that article in N.Y. mag, but I agree that from my limited travels, the best pizza I tasted in Italy was in Naples. (It’s definitely the direct ancestor of N.Y. pizza). I actually wish I spent more time in Napoli sampling pizza, rather than in Capri. Oh well!

  • etchy says:

    the answer is….. Pizza Hut.

    pushing the boundaries with things like sausage and cheese tubes stuck into the crust!

  • YTSL says:

    Anyone here tried Sergio’s in Causeway Bay. It’s not New York or Chicago style pizza but it seems pretty authentic Italian…

    But what do I know since I’m one of those people who likes Pizza Express’ Peking duck pizza… ;b

  • doughboy says:

    Give Ziti’s Homemade Pizza & Catering a try, 110 Tung Lo Wan Road, G/F, Causeway Bay. Been there a couple of times, down-home, thin base, no fuss pizza.

  • 5 Boroughs says:

    e-ting: NY Pizza is famous worldwide…who’s talking about pizza or water from NZ? Might as well be talking about water from Antarctica. Pipes?!!!…stop hitting the pipe…educate yourself before you add your two cents on the taste and quality of the water from NYC.

    Most pizza from NY is not brick oven. The “average” (as opposed to marquee Ray’s, Lombardi’s…etc..) walk-in pizza shop, whether it’s Pizza Town in the city or Avellino’s in Queens or a slice from Coney Island in Brooklyn…in general, just tastes better and has a better texture than gourmet pizza in other places. That’s what makes it a taste of New York…and we’re only talking about regular slices…we haven’t even gotten into talking about a NY Sicilian style…but that’s another topic altogether, like water from NZ.

    On NY Pizza
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGs8LUZIgco

    On Water
    http://abcnews.go.com/2020/Health/story?id=728070&page=2

    The Details
    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dep/pdf/wsstate08.pdf

  • JoMama says:

    In HK, the closest thing you will find to a real greasy, salty, thin as cardboard pizza from NY is not in HK… It’s actually in Shenzhen and the joint is called NYPD….

  • thompson says:

    hi everyone, this is thompson (NYPD Pizza, Shenzhen). FYI, we will be opening a NYPD Pizza in QUARRY BAY (Finnie Street) by mid May, 2010. Come and taste what everyone’s raving about the best new york style pizza.

  • Administrator says:

    Thanks for the info Thompson! Looking forward to trying it out! ;)

  • chung says:

    Was in Soho, but didn’t get Lombardi’s b/c of the long line. But even average pie in NY is better than here.

    Will look out for NYPD in May.

  • Adrian says:

    I second the vote for Ziti’s. It’s the best I’ve found out here.

  • gus says:

    I’ve always complained about the poor quality of pizza in Hong Kong. When Alfonso opened Paisanos in SK, I became a regular customer immediately. The only way he wont become a success in SK and even further afield if is he steps back from directly running his business and lets someone else run it, while he counts his dough. But I dont think that will happen, the man has a genuine pride in his work and wants it done right, hands on and with standards.

    The idea of restaurant concepts vs family businesses – with reputations to keep up – is a fascinating one and I’m glad you mentioned it.

    Glad I stumbled accross this site.

    Angus in Sai Kung

  • Fred says:

    I walked past Ziti’s on Sunday (on the way to another restaurant… so many good places if you spend a little time exploring that area) and it looked interesting.

    Will definitely check it out. It’s about 5 minutes walk from Tin Hau MTR (if you get out in Causeway Bay, it’ll take you 15 mins +)

  • thompson says:

    we’re officially open in hong kong.
    Address: 15 Finnie Street, Quarry Bay, Hong kong island
    (Quarry Bay Metro stop exit b, turn left then onto finnie street
    phone: 2668-6973 (nypd )

    Come and taste what everyone’s raving about the best new york style pizza.

  • Joyce says:

    Paisano’s has pretty good pizza slices :) best i’ve had in Hong Kong so far! go check it out either at Lyndhurst Terrace in Central or in Sai Kung. http://www.paisanos.com.hk/

  • anjeeta says:

    Oh Hong Kong hustle, I am a transplanted New Yorker who misses her NY Pizza big time here in HK( Patsys and Totonno’s were my go to joints for my Pizza fix in NY. When i first moved here I went looking for some foolishly at Fat Angelo’s . It was so terrible and undercooked that I havent eaten pizza since, But Paisano’s sounds wonderful can’t wait to try it! Many thanks..

  • Administrator says:

    Paisano’s is ‘N.Y. style’ pizza, but it’s certainly not on par with the best N.Y. has to offer. It’s a good quick fix, but it doesn’t have the top quality ingredients or the delicate sophistication of a small, several generation old N.Y. pizzeria. (And how could it?)

    It’s doughy, and more similar to the type of slice that would be considered just below average in N.Y.. (Perhaps a little less good than an Original Rays slice.)

    THAT SAID, it’s nice to even have a place like this around! It certainly hits the spot when you get a craving.

  • Dano says:

    Now hear me out first ok ? I was at three-sixty supermarket at Elements last trip down to renew my visa and they have slices there that are more gourmet, but a decent sized slice that in my humble opinion (and liking Rays Pizza in Phoenix, AZ USA shows a little class ) is pretty good and for 35HKD it won’t break the bank. There’s no rule that you have to be a NY snob ( I was born in Uniondale ) to know pizza. As long as you realize that Pizza Hut is a LAST resort there’s hope.

  • Brooklynexpat says:

    Paisano’s is the worst crap I have ever tasted. One guy mentioned a guy named Alfonso who owned it but the website says the guys name is Al Morales. The dough is undercooked and the quality of the cheese and sauce is cheap. I’m from Brooklyn, NY and Paisano’s cannot even compare with some of NY’s worst places.

  • Administrator says:

    Hong Kong still has room for a good pizza place. The problem is making it worthwhile financially. It’s just tough to make it work by using good quality ingredients, having space for patrons to sit, employing decent staff, and being located in a convenient area, while paying Hong Kong rents.

  • Big Al says:

    Al = Alfonso. Duh!

  • Brooklynexpat says:

    I remember Sergio’s in Causeway Bay which became Il Maestro. They were directly across the street from Victoria Park and their pizza had nice flavor. The pizza was more Italian style but I know it was cooked in a gas oven and not wood or coal fired oven. One waitress told me their pizza was cooked in a wood fired oven and just one look at the crust told me she didn’t know ahat she was talking about. I asked the Pizzaioli and he said they cooked it in a gas oven. The only good pizza we might find out here will be Italian style pizza from Naples. I’m still waiting for a good NY style place to emerge. By the way I could be a ghostwriter for the guy that wrote this article. His thoughts mirror my thoughts and he/she knows what the hell they are talking about. Congrats on a great article. I heard 208 Duecento Otto had excellent Italian style pizza so will try it out tonight.

  • Brooklynexpat says:

    @ Big Al Al = Alfonso, that is correct but surname Morales = Not Italian.

  • Administrator says:

    Thanks John!

    I think if you grew up in New York (particularly in the boroughs,) you have a certain definition of what pizza is.

    I’ve come to understand that other people simply don’t have the same definition or measuring stick.

    They were never exposed to the taste of perfection that is a classic New York slice.

    Here’s a local analogy for you – it’s like people who have only tasted frozen dim sum trying to talk about dim sum to Hong Kong people.

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