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Dishing out Italian pizza with a Japanese spin

Seemingly half-baked creations catch on with country's intrepid culinary crowd

Sushi pizza topped with raw tuna, salmon, avocado, and mayonnaise (Courtesy of Hiroshi Sakiyama)

TOKYO -- Adventurous chefs around the world have long tried combining pizza and unusual ingredients with mixed results. Now, Japanese are having a go at creating gastronomically challenging marriages of Italy's iconic dish with local specialties such as sushi.

Hiroshi Sakiyama, chef and author of a Japanese cooking blog, has been pleasantly surprised with his efforts. Initially unsure whether tomato sauce could coexist with sushi's vinegared rice, he discovered that "they turned out to be all right and the pizza was delicious," Sakiyama wrote in his blog, which has attracted 40,000 visitors since he first began posting his creations in August.

His main complaint was getting the sushi pizza to his mouth by hand, which he eventually abandoned in favor of chopsticks.

Sakiyama makes the pizza base from vinegared rice, spreading it onto a triangular sheet of dried seaweed and sprinkling it with cheese that he melts with a cooking blowtorch. Toppings include dabs of tomato sauce, raw tuna and avocado. To recreate the outer "crust," he carefully molds roll-type sushi containing salmon to the edge.

The unexpectedly large response to Sakiyama's sushi pizza, which was inspired by an American's posts on Instagram, has led to about a 1,000 people building their own variations. "Arranging the segments in a full circle makes a nice party dish," one blog visitor commented.

Japan's taste for pizza likely began in 1944 when an Italian restaurant in Kobe offered the dish, according to the Tokyo-based Pizza Association. It really caught on after the appearance of home-delivery pizza chains in the 1980s.

But the Italian soul food has other suitors besides sushi. Ramen, the ubiquitous Japanese noodle dish, is also giving pizza a makeover. The most popular pizza dish on the Delish Kitchen cooking website is one that uses instant ramen for the base. At first blush, it looks like a genuine margherita pizza. But below the topping of basil, cheese and tomato lies a crust of instant ramen -- briefly boiled then pan-fried and shaped into a circle with a slightly firm texture, according to the recipe's creator.

Since the ramen pizza recipe appeared last summer, the quick-and-easy 15-minute concoction has had numerous views.

The crust of this Japanese-style pizza is made from instant ramen.

Meanwhile, a woman in Tokyo is pushing the boundaries of the pizza pan by topping ready-made pizza crust with the seasoned beef-and-onion mixture from gyudon beef bowls. After baking the dish for a few minutes, she finishes with chopped leek, mayonnaise, Japanese chili powder or other condiments. She keeps a stock of the gyudon mixture in her freezer and says the soy sauce-based topping is milder than the cheese-heavy Italian version.

Aficionados of Japanese-style pizza like to point out the healthier ingredients and fewer calories than authentic Italian pizza, and the country's culinary crowd will undoubtedly serve up more as the boom continues.

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