Why California-Style Pizza Has Such Unconventional Toppings

While New York-style pizza is widely celebrated for its wide, thin slices, and Detroit-style for its rectangular deep-dish, California-style pizza is more known for its smaller pie size and unusual mix of toppings — BBQ chicken, shrimp, beets, smoked salmon, and even pear and gorgonzola.

However, as unconventional as these toppings may seem initially, they pay homage to California's impressive cultural diversity. The region, with its heavy Latino, Asian, and Pacific Islander influences, inspires many chefs to experiment with fusion cuisine not commonly seen elsewhere. Indeed, where else besides California could you find a bánh mì pizza, topped with carrots, sesame, and sriracha?

California is also famous for its love of fresh, locally purchased produce, in-season, and from small businesses. Therefore, it should come as little surprise that these ingredients also find their way onto pizza. Many restaurants change their menus each season to reflect the ingredients available at local farmers markets.

The history behind California-style pizza

Though pizza has been around for centuries, California-style didn't emerge until the 1980s.At that time, Ed LaDou and Alice Waters were both pizza chefs, experimenting with various pizza toppings and cultural fusions. Within a few years, LaDou was discovered by culinary icon Wolfgang Puck, and was tasked with developing what we today consider an expansive California-style pizza menu.

Understandably, people were initially wary of this new pizza style, accustomed as they were to the traditional combination of tomato sauce, mozzarella, and pepperoni. However, as more Californians embraced the idea of investing in raw and fresh food and supporting local businesses throughout the latter half of the 20th century, California-style pizza became a regional staple.

As immigration patterns shifted since the 1950s, new fusion styles also became possible. Mexican, Filipino, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Indian populations moved into the region, bringing with them new ingredients and flavor combinations. This California-bound melting pot gave rise to the delicious variety of pizza we know today.

Making your own California-style pizza at home

As you might imagine, the guidelines for making California-style pizza are quite vague. Essentially, any thin-crusted, smaller pizza with fusion and/or fresh ingredients could be considered a take on California-style. However, we're here to provide inspiration if you're unsure where to start.

In terms of cheese, you can stick with traditional mozzarella, or you can embrace Californian cuisine and opt for Piave, ricotta, fontina, sheep cheese, or even some funky goat cheese. Ideally, you should shop locally, but that may not always be feasible depending on where you live.

Likewise, you should choose toppings that are locally available and in season. If seafood is common in your area, consider adding smoked salmon or shrimp to your pizza. Have access to fresh eggs? Try adding one to your pizza! Any veggies from your garden or the local farmers market would also make a great addition — California is particularly fond of arugula, avocado, and artichoke. Ultimately, it's about the quality of ingredients and the blending of cultures, not any specific combination of toppings.