Overall Experience - 6
Summary : The pizza here isn't great, but there are some intriguing topping combinations and a unique setup in the basement of a shopping mall.
On my trip to Asia earlier this summer, I visited Singapore and Malaysia. The pizza I had in Singapore was pretty good, but I must say I was more excited to try some pizza in Malaysia. Singapore is one of the more westernized cities in Asia and the pizza there wasn’t particularly adventurous. But that isn’t the case elsewhere in Asia (for example, this pizzeria I visited in Vietnam on a previous trip to Asia features tuna curry pizza and a salmon miso cream pizza). I was excited to see what crazy styles and toppings I might find in Malaysia.
One of the best food cities in Malaysia is considered to be Penang, so I decided to wait until I arrived there for my pizza adventure. All my research pointed me to the same place: Giffy Pizza & More. And I was really excited about it. The photos here looked promising. And although TripAdvisor isn’t a great resource for food, the reviews were overwhelming positive on there. So immediately after dropping off my bags off at the hotel, I headed for Giffy. When I arrived, at 9PM on a Friday night, they were closed (their Facebook page notes that they are open from 11AM-11PM). I was disappointed, but determined to try this pizza. So I returned on Saturday around lunchtime and they were still closed. So I messaged them on Facebook and it wasn’t until I was already back in the States that I received a reply from them. “We are closed we will open in another location …sorry for the inconvenient Sir,” they wrote.
Without another place in mind, I had to call an audible. About a 10 minute walk from Giffy was a place called Pizzaiola which had some decent enough reviews on foursquare (7.4/10). So off I went!
Pizzaiola is a little tough to find, because it is not a standalone restaurant. It’s located in the basement of Prangin Mall which is part of the Komtar Bus Terminal. There are a couple of picnic tables “outside” which is sort of strange because they are technically in the mall concourse. If you sit inside the restaurant, however, you sort of forget that you’re dining in the basement of a shopping mall after a few minutes.
Pizzaiola has a dozen pies on its menu, plus a couple of daily specials. Some of the pies are more traditional and others are a bit more “out there.” Their “Pizzaiola” pie, for example, contains teriyaki unagi (that’e eel!), spicy seafood, beef pepperoni, and BBQ chicken. Although there are plenty of meat and seafood pies, none contain pork. Malaysia has a large Muslim population and it is not uncommon to see pork-free establishments like Pizzaiola.
We decided to order one standard pie (Margherita) and one more adventurous pie (Nasi Lemak). The description of the Margherita pie read: “classic pizza with mozzarella cheese, tomato and mozzarella cheese.” It looked like this:
Close enough! The pizza at Pizzaola sort of reminds me of fast food pizza in the States. Maybe it was the pan baked crust. Or the low quality ingredients. But I felt as if I were in a sit down Pizza Hut. That’s not to say the pie wasn’t satisfying — I was hungry and it hit the spot. But I wouldn’t describe it as “good” pizza.
The second pie we ordered was the Nasi Lemak pizza which contains “peanut, anchovies, onion slice, and mozzarella cheese.” I was particularly intrigued by this pie. You see, Nasi Lemak is considered to be Malaysia’s national dish. There are variations on the dish and it can be served any time of day, but here is a nice description from Singapore Infopedia:
Nasi lemak is Malay for “rice in cream”, a reference to the rice being cooked in coconut milk, or “richly flavoured rice”. The rice is lightly salted and made fragrant with a knot of pandan leaves added while the rice is still cooking. It is the ordinary man’s breakfast, traditionally served with fried fish known in Malay as ikan selar kuning, ikan bilis (anchovies), kangkong (water spinach) and a dollop of sambal (a type of chilli paste). The fish is fried so crisp that it can be eaten whole. Nowadays, the anchovies are fried with salted peanuts, the dish topped with thin slices of cucumber and a fried or boiled egg.
So essentially, this pizza took part of the accompaniments of nasi lemek and incorporated them into a pizza. We ordered ours without the anchovies. I must say, I really enjoyed the spin that Pizzaiolo put on this classic Malaysia dish. Of particular intrigue were the peanuts on the pizza. I don’t think I’ve ever had peanuts on pizza, but they make sense and complimented the other ingredients well. Look, this wasn’t great pizza. But if I were to give them feedback, I might channel my 8th grade math teacher and tell the staff that the pizza needs some work, but I give them an A+ for effort. Again, we were essentially eating a Malaysian Pizza Hut (funny enough, there is an actual Pizza Hut located one floor up in the mall). But I liked the combination of ingredients on this pie. Additionally, although not listed in the description, there must have been some spices added to the pie, as it had a kick. Maybe it was even actual sambal!
And just in case it wasn’t spicy enough, our pies came with some Heinz chili sauce and Tabasco sauce for our convenience.
Pizzaiola, like many food establishments in Malaysia, is pretty cheap. Our pies cost RM 17.80 and RM 16.80, respectively (roughly $5 USD). Although the aforementioned “Pizzaiola” pizza was RM 52.80 — more than twice as expensive as any other pie (roughly $14 USD). So if you want to splurge, that is you’re best bet.
Should you eat at Pizzaiola while you’re visiting Penang? Probably not. There is so much other incredible food there. You’d be wasting a meal on pizza. But if you live in Penang all year round or are spending an extended period of time there, I can see the intrigue of eating some pizza. And this could very well be the best in town.