For many Koreans, pizza is best served with pickles. The trend seems especially true among those much closer to Western cuisine — Korean Americans, for example — yet prefer a hint of something “familiar.”
Pizza originated in Italy, and while there’s no rule telling what comes with it, many are puzzled why Koreans find pickles, of all possible choices, the perfect fit. Conventional side dishes include salad, garlic bread, cheese fries, mozzarella sticks and Buffalo wings, none of which obviously seems to match with pickles.
So, why pickles? It turns out the reason has to do with cutting down rich flavors.
One of the Kimchi Mamas, a group of mothers to Korean American kids, has since noticed Westerners wondering why pizza in Korea comes with a bottle of pickles.
“I did notice though that when Americans (or Canadians) talk about Pizza in Korea, they always wonder why it comes with a container of pickles (never mind the chunks of potato and whole sausage links on them). Some even act like it’s disgusting and that the combo makes absolutely no sense.
“Koreans have a hard time with cheese and butter and other rich Western foods. It goes down better for us when there’s something to cut through the richness. My parents and grandmother used to come home and eat kimchi after a pasta or pizza dinner out. So the pizza companies give out the pickles for this purpose.
“Koreans really DO eat the pickles with their pizza.”
Kristen Sun, who ate out with a Korean friend in Seoul, echoed the idea on Flavor Boulevard:
“Another quirk about Korean Italian restaurants that my friend warned me about is that pickles are always served alongside pasta dishes because Koreans find pasta sauce (particularly creamy ones like alfredo) to be too rich to eat on their own. It makes me wonder why not just eat kimchi alongside the pasta.
“I love pickles though so this didn’t really weird me out too much except that I didn’t really understand how pickles came to be representative of Italian cuisine!”
Apparently, pickles provide a familiar flavor similar to kimchi, a dish that goes with virtually every Korean meal. Pickles also come handy.
Quora user Hanhwe Kim calls this flavor “tangy-salty” in a thread:
“Kimchi is a very adult tasting dish — a mixture of tangy-salty pickled veggies and garlic with pungent fermentation. Add the right amount of chili peppers and now it is spicy-tangy-salty.”
“Now, I don’t know if you like pickles in your hamburgers, but as you probably know, there are many people who love eating pickles with, well, anything. Kimchi, as pickled vegetables, has a similar effect but is much more common in Korean culture.”
The unusual trend has gone beyond Koreans, however. Dan Myers, editor at The Daily Meal, encouraged people to put pickles on their pizza, calling it “a perfect flavor combination.”
“Pickles work on pizza because, put simply, the flavors are complimentary. Plenty of people already top their pizzas with strongly-flavored salty and briny things, like banana peppers, olives, and sardines, and pickles definitely fit the mold.
“Melty cheese, crispy crust, tangy sauce, and briny pickles? A match made in heaven (especially if you also add some ground beef and turn it into a cheeseburger pizza).”
Maybe try some sweet pickles with your pizza next time!