Magnus Nilsson's creates a Hawaiian pizza, Nordic style, in PBS's Mind of a Chef

Why did Magnus Nilsson put pizza in The Nordic Baking Book?

The Nordic Baking Book author has a slightly controversial but well-reasoned take on pizza's 'Nordic origins'

Why did Magnus Nilsson put a pizza in his new publication The Nordic Baking Book? Perhaps – you’ll be astounded to learn – because he thinks the dish actually may have originated in northern, not southern Europe.

“It would stand to reason that any country having a tradition of making flatbreads in wood-fired ovens at the same time as having a tradition of cheese-making could be the coincidental and unacknowledged birthplace of the mother of all pizzas,” Nilsson writes in The Nordic Baking Book. “The northern parts of the Nordic mainland regions have an extensive history of both those food items and it seems logical to me that at some point, somewhere, someone sprinkled some cheese on one of those breads before it went into the oven.”

OK, OK, that might sound like fighting talk to many Neapolitans, but they shouldn't raise their pizza paddles in anger just yet. Nilsson, in a less inflammatory passage argues quite convincingly for the food being a natural part of any national cuisine.

“I think that a dish really becomes part of a food culture when it has been established long enough to have become a part of people’s everyday lives,” he writes, “when it isn’t a curiosity anymore, and when it has started to adapt to its environment, sometimes changing from the original, becoming a new and unique occurrence.”


Magnus Nilsson. Photograph by Erik Olsson
Magnus Nilsson. Photograph by Erik Olsson

Besides, the kind of pizza they make and serve in the Nordic region is quite different from the pizzas you’ll enjoy in the boot of Italy. For one, the chefs who tend to cook them are neither from Italy nor Scandinavia.

“Today you can find a pizzeria in almost every Swedish village,” says Nilsson. “Most of them are not run by Italians or ethnic Swedes, but rather by immigrants predominantly from Turkey, the Balkans or from the Middle East. This has obviously also influenced the evolution of the Nordic pizza; nowhere else is one of the standard fixtures of the pizzeria menu a kebab pizza, at least as far as I know.”

These expatriate pizza chefs also serve the dish with a plate of cabbage salad on the side – something you’re unlikely to find in a Naples pizzeria, but a dish you will come across in plenty of Turkish kebab shops. Oh, and Nordic pizzas aren’t cooked with mozzarella, either, but with local, hard, yellow cheese.


hawaiian pizza


And while the Nordic region’s pizza chefs might have brought a few minor pizza variations with them, these are minor in comparison to the crazy toppings favoured by Danes, Swedes, Norwegians and Finns. Look out for Pizza med reinsdyr og granateple (reindeer and pomegranate pizza), and pizza med Kyckling curry och banan (pizza with chicken, curry and banana), as well more conventional Vesuvios and Capricciosas when you’re ordering in this part of the world.


You can buy signed copies of The Nordic Baking Book in our store
You can buy signed copies of The Nordic Baking Book in our store

You can watch Magnus create an authentic Nordic take on the Hawaiian pizza above, but for the full lowdown on Nordic pizza and much more besides order a copy of The Nordic Baking Book here.