The Happiest Pizza in the World
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because this potent pizza won’t cure your munchies.
By Leslie Nguyen-Okwu
Hospital Street in Siem Reap, Cambodia, has all the usual stenches of the old quarter’s well-trodden backpacker lanes: booze, garbage and diesel fumes. But there’s also a curious odor combined with a popular fast food: weed pizza. Pizza joints in the area are serving up thin-crust pies topped with mozzarella cheese, mushrooms, pepperoni and the not-so-secret ingredient of cannabis — adorably known as “happy” pizzas.
And they’re pretty popular. Marijuana pizza shops also dot the busy thoroughfares of Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. In Siem Reap, Happy Herb Pizza, Ecstatic Pizza and Happy Special Pizza all sit on the same block, drawing hungry crowds on a Sunday night. What’s it like to munch on some happy pizza? It’s a “mix between floating on clouds and being extremely hungry,” Laura Hayward, a red-eyed tourist from Sydney, told me when we were both visiting in September. Weed pizza is weird in that it satiates your hunger and then, a few hours later, you get the munchies all over again. A full stomach (at first), cottonmouth and a nice floaty buzz? Check, check and check. And the taste? “About as good as you would expect,” says Eric Kropp of West Virginia, who visited in July — in other words, a bit crappy.
But you can have too much of a good thing — even if it’s so-called “happiness.”
Depending on how much pizza you devour, the woozy effects take only an hour to kick in. Waiters also walk by with tall pepper grinders chock-full of fresh, pungent weed. Need more carbs (and, subsequently, more buzz)? Some spots have weed-infused bread on the menu, too, which can be washed down with pot-spiked “happy” fruit shakes.
But be warned: Recreational weed isn’t legal in Cambodia, and the fine is a whopping $700 if you’re caught consuming these happy pizzas. Here, marijuana is used mostly for traditional herb therapy, but back in the late 1990s, some half-baked pizza pioneers decided that sprinkling bud onto a big ol’ slice of greasy pizza was also fair game. With a small bribe, most authorities turn a blind eye to tourists and locals chowing down and getting high on weekend nights. For obvious reasons, the restaurant owners we spoke to all declined to dish out their specific strategies for navigating the cops.
Tourists should be careful, also, of overindulging. You can have too much of a good thing — even if it’s so-called “happiness,” says Kalwina Karunanithy from Melbourne, Australia, who ate her weed-laced slice at a joint in Siem Reap while visiting in June 2014. With a cheap price tag of $10 or less for a large-size pizza, many tourists eat well past their limits while downing bottles of tepid Angkor beer. And it doesn’t cost extra to make your pizza extra happy. “The aftereffect was also not fun,” Karunanithy explains. The next morning she felt “extra sleepy, extra lazy [and] extra slow, and with a headache.” But after a bowl of Khmer porridge she was good to go.
Still, hangovers aside, it’s a culinary experience worth trying once. After all, as Olivia Simms, a teacher from Long Beach, California, said to me, “How many people can say they are eating a happy pizza and getting super stoned with their dad in Cambodia?”