La Jolla’s Afghan-American pizzaman may have the recipe!
By Linda Hutchison
Where does one cuisine end and another begin? It may seem a long way from the rice and naan and kabobs of Afghanistan to the Italian-American pizza of La Jolla, but to Samay “Sam” Qadiri, there’s no distance at all, just a short leap of the imagination.
As the owner of Pizza Pronto on Fay Avenue, Sam is both a product of the American melting pot and a cutting-edge creator of our constantly evolving fusion cuisine.
Afghan-Italian anyone? How about California-Afghan-Persian? And a little Greek or Indian thrown in for good measure?
Judging by his many loyal and enthusiastic customers, and the success of Pizza Pronto since Sam took it over a few years ago, it seems that his unique blending of culinary tastes are a hit with local food lovers.
Sam’s love for cooking began when he was age 6, living in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.
When his older sister married, he began helping his mother in the kitchen. As the family grew to include a total of five brothers and three sisters, Sam continued cooking and learning to make many Afghan and Central Asian staples, such as naan bread (a teardrop-shaped flatbread), basmati rice, and a variety of kabobs, stews, and dumplings.
In 1987, with his father in the military and Afghanistan at war with Russia, the Qadiri family moved to Pakistan. Two years later, they arrived in the United States as refugees, sponsored by his grandmother, who had moved to San Diego. By then, his father had died.
It was not an easy time, remembers Sam. “We had $10 when we landed.” After adjusting to a different culture in Pakistan, the family had to readjust in California.
But before long, teen-aged Sam was cooking again. When one of his uncles ordered pizza (which he’d never seen before) for a family picnic and Sam saw it disappear in two seconds, he was hooked.
He walked over to a nearby Vons and examined the frozen pizzas.
“I can make that,” he told his brother, buying the ingredients. He came home, rolled out the dough, put his sister to work grating the cheese, and added the special sauce.
The family loved it and soon he was adding new dishes. “Lasagna was next,” he said.
Sam finished high school, attended college, worked various jobs, including McDonalds and his uncle’s car dealership, married, and now has two sons and a daughter.
“But my dream was to own my own business,” he said. When he had the opportunity to take over Pizza Pronto, he took it, and was soon expanding and experimenting with the menu. He added new pizzas, pastas, salads, Persian chicken kabobs, Afghan beef kabobs and rice.
Sam is proud that his hard work has paid off and that he can send money back to help relatives in Afghanistan. “It’s like a dream come true,” he added. He is also proud of the freshness and quality of his food. “We don’t have a freezer or a fryer,” he said. “We make our pasta fresh daily, from scratch.”
And he doesn’t plan to stop mixing cuisines any time soon. “I’m always inventing new dishes, adding an American twist to foreign foods.” He gets his ideas from visiting restaurants, Greek and Indian recently, and watching the food channel.
For more information, visit https://la-jolla-pizza.com or call (858) 459-9000.