Stop. STOP. Before you go defending your hometown as having the “best pizza on the east coast” (Looking at you, Pepe’s. You couldn’t even bother to be open when I last visited. Dead to me.), know that all of your claims to the contrary—every last one of them—are hearsay, conjecture, and anecdotal at best. I’m not even an NYC native, and I will aquiesce that while my hometown had great pizza, it was not New York City pizza. See the objectivity here? Now that we got that out of the way, let’s continue with the rational discourse.
For the most part, your pizza is fine. It’ll do. It isn’t until you start getting out to Chicago or Florida do things start to get hairy. California? I have no idea what you guys are doing out there. You can keep it. Keep your In and Out Burger, too—just like the south can keep its Chick-fil-A. We don’t want it. Admittedly, according to my corollary, Italy has some pretty crap pizza, which can’t be right. After all, Italy invented pizza, which was named after famous explorer Francisco Pizzarro. As such, I’m sure they have a similar postulate regarding their own definition of bread/cheese/sauce pies in which the United States is a land of culinary mutants. But then again, they also claimed they recorded a neutrino moving faster than the speed of light*. So let’s call it a wash. I expect just like all the terrible “Neutrino walks into a bar after the punchline” jokes that the news has spawned, they’ll never hear the end of it.
I digress. Let’s talk about Japan. Japan. I have never held so much pride/disdain for a country in my life. They do some good stuff over there, but holy crap, do they know how to ruin a pizza. Before I explain the monster in the comic (yes, it’s a semi-real, Pizza Hut creation), let me tell you about my own experience with Japanese pizza:
It was the summer of 2003 in Nagano prefecture. I was living with a host family for what was my longest stay in Japan since I had gained object permanence. As such, the gestalt of refusing to eat food I could find in America was starting to crumble, and decided to branch out a bit and see what the Japanese were doing with hamburgers and pizza. Well, it didn’t happen willingly, actually. I came home from a night out with my coworkers to find my host family had brought home some leftover pizza. But what greeted me when I peeled back the tin foil was nothing that a decent human being would enjoy.
It was a thin crust, with the pinkest sauce I’ve ever seen. Sprinkled haphazardly on it were fish eggs (tarako to be exact) and rice. What? Now, I kind of understand the thought process here: These toppings are great in tandem. In fact I love tarako and rice. So this pizza maker, thinking themselves some sort of culinary wizard, basically decided that if Brawndo is good for humans, it must be good for plants. This is a false corollary. What this careless fool had wrought was a oddly sweet, cheeseless pizza crust with salty clumps hidden in a thin layer of rice. I didn’t eat another pizza that whole summer.
I only later realized what was so intrinsically wrong with the pizza in Japan when my parents came to visit. As it is custom to bring gifts from your hometown when visiting somebody, they brought some American oddities: Peanut butter, marshmallow Fluff, Mustard, and Dinosaur BBQ sauce. Upon trying the BBQ sauce, my host father exclaimed “Oh, it’s like pizza sauce!” This was the problem.
Some more research will find pizza with a mexican salad built atop it, pizza with lo-mein on top, pizza with seaweed and shiso leaves, and the notorious squid ink pizza—which I’m sure you could also find in the hands of some Italian particle physicist. But Pizza Hut Japan just had to one-up everybody. In a move that could only be called “American” or “satirical” in scope and absurdity, they made the Double Roll.
As reported here at SlashFood, You take a normal pizza, but instead of the usual crust, fill it with hot dogs and cheese sticks that point inwards like the payload of a nuclear weapon designed to cause arterial plaque. Now that the implosion ring is set, you begin filling the pie with cheese, bacon, hamburger patties, peppers, tomato, ham, soybeans, carrots, onions, and corn. You do this, and you don’t stop—no matter what—until you reach critical mass, or as Nadir calls it “snacktime.”
What’s most disheartening about this pizza is not that it comes with ketchup, honey, and maple syrup to pour on; It’s that the more I write about it, the more I want to eat one. I blame skipping breakfast though, as this radioactive fallout of a pizza has a half-life (in this case, the amount of time in which you hate yourself for eating it) of at least three years. There should be UN sanctions on this thing.
What causes such affronts to normal, sensible, cultural cuisine? Last night I went to the Story Collider/Science Tweetup combo which featured excellent, heartfelt stories about science writing. As this Scientopia article put it, “I went there expecting to see some big brains, instead I saw big hearts.” There I spoke with writer Carl Zimmer, who shared his own heartfelt, personal journey to becoming a science writer. Spilling the beans on this article (which I should have been writing at the time). He shared a similar story of a trip to Indonesia, where a well-intentioned host served him horrible foreign pizza. This is probably what is at the heart of the matter. Ex-pats in other countries want a taste of home, or well-intentioned foreigners want to provide the same service with a touch of local flair. Zimmer wondered why they didn’t stick to food that they had spent hundreds of years perfecting. Meanwhile, China, Mexico, and Italy are all looking askance at the United States, wondering the same thing.
This post was brought to you by Protactinium (Pa).
Hey! StoryCollider is having their first fundraising drive to support future shows. Amongst the gifts that pledgers will receive in return for donations is a collection of stories illustrated by a cadre of amazing artists, including myself. Please donate, and help keep the stories and the spice flowing in New York City.
*Updates on this as we get them, but the current consensus from the rest of the community can be summed up by a good belly laugh and a slow shake of the head from side to side. Like with all cases like this, it’d be exciting if they turned out to be right!