japan and pizza: you can’t miss what you never had.

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holy bejeesus, pizza is amazing.

sure, a lot of the stuff you can get from delivery chains in the usa is absolutely terrible quality.  not to mention frozen pizzas, which are (on the whole) nasty and super shady.  it has become a lazy man’s food in the states because it is cheap, delivered directly to your house or place of work, and requires no utensils to consume.  even elementary schools use it as the default school lunch because no kid can refuse greasy bread and melted cheese garnished with meat and (god willing) a few slices of vegetables.

but pizza can’t be held responsible for the evils americans use it for.  well executed pizza is magical, like true love or unicorns.  logic dictates that any food which contains all the major food groups in a single serving must be essentially good.  think about sandwiches.  i think i’ve proved my point.

suffice to say, there is a silver lining to every cloud.  for every barbarian who orders a meat-za with extra meat or a chicago deep dish pizza, there is a kind, loving soul who created a truly excellent pizza from scratch in their own kitchen.  those people keep traditional pizza alive.  after all, the original pizza wasn’t decadent or greasy or caked with hamburger.  it was pioneered by poor nightshade farmers around naples in the 18th century as a means of adding tomato to their leavened flat breads.

you may be thinking, “ok poor man, your long-winded story has absolved pizza of all its wrong-doing.  but what the heck does any of this have to do with japan?”

ah yes, japan.  japan has pizza, too.

by which i mean to say, japan has a food they call pizza.  it has all the major ingredients (i.e. tomato sauce, cheese, and bread).  but japanese pizza also has all kinds of auxiliary ingredients, like potatoes.  and corn.  and mayonnaise.

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why yes, that is a pizza with potatoes, mayonnaise, and shellfish.

here’s an analogy that might make the comparison a little clearer.  think of pizzas as salary men.  and then think of the people making the pizzas as scientists.  apparently, japanese scientists decided at some point that all the salary men in japan would be better workers if they had bonus limbs which were procured from a variety of wild animals.  so now, instead of having a bunch of average, run of the mill, hard-working salary men, japan’s white collar workers all have shark fins or dog ears or tentacles hastily sewn onto their bodies.

pretty grotesque, huh.

japanese delivery pizza is soggy, greasy, small, overpriced, and strange tasting.  when i ask japanese people what their favorite pizza is, most respond with either margherita or cheese.  and i don’t blame them.  those are the two pizzas i can think of that, no matter what happens, are at least edible.

every now and again, a pizza oasis springs up in a city here or there.  i’ve been to a few restaurants which have genuine, well crafted pizza.  but the price of high quality ingredients and upkeep combined with an overall cultural lack of appreciation for traditional pizza makes the lifespan of such establishments pretty short.  so what is a pizza loving poor man to do?

well, that’s simple.  fire up the toaster oven, of course.

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14 thoughts on “japan and pizza: you can’t miss what you never had.

  1. Hey now. Don’t rip on Chicago deep dish. Some friends and I used to make the hour trek into the city every couple weeks for some Lou Malnati’s. But the boyfriend demands frozen Romas :( And I worked at a Papa John’s as a driver for far too long. I, too, prefer to make my own pizza these days. Even down to the dough for the crust.

    • sorry, i get a little carried away when it comes to deep dish. there is just so much cheese i don’t know what to do with myself. it makes me feel…dirty. besides, i’m a firm believer that you should never have to eat a pizza with a fork and knife. as soon as you do, you’ve left pizza land and wandered into casserole country.

      the dough is the key, and i’m proud of you for giving it a go. i have a pretty good recipe, but baking in japan can get a little crazy sometimes. pizza and japan pt 2 is coming up, and it’ll talk specifically about the shenanigans that occured when i tried to make my recipe using japanese ingredients.

      ps: i love papa johns, it was my go-to guilty pleasure food in college.

  2. I came from near Chicago and grew up on deep-dish, but will eat other kinds too. I have access to both, and I like making it from scratch too. I admit though, that first pizza at the top looks real yummy!

    • that’s awesome that you grew up on deep dish, i have to admit i am a little jealous. i just can’t seem to get into it no matter what i do. maybe it is a cultural thing. then again, st. louis is all about the super thin crust, which i’m not a big fan of either.

      ah yes, the bulgogi pizza. i think it might taste pretty good, but it seems far too odd for me to enjoy more than one slice. i would only ever think about ordering that one for the novelty.

  3. OMG I can still remember THE pizza. Ya know when everything collides and the thinnest base is perfect. Tignes, New Year’s Eve, Margeaux, egg in the middle of my pizza that the waiter pulled the shell off to reveal a runny centre. Now I’m salivating again.

    Stop it.

    • hahaha, oh man, that sounds amazing! i can’t live without eggs. the softer, the better.

      i’m one of those pizza lovers who thinks tomato sauce is played out. i tend to migrate towards pesto or white sauce pizzas. throw roasted chicken, sliced tomatoes, and mushrooms on there and i’ll do almost anything for a slice.

  4. I like your blog but if you allow me one note of constructive criticism: the fact that your header is so large and stays on screen the whole time, makes my reading experience difficult. I was looking forward to reading your article about pizza in Japan but found it difficult to focus because my attention kept going to the large gray header looming over my screen. Just thought I should mention it, since I would also like people to tell me such things about my own blog. Other than that, keep up the good writing!

    • thanks so much! i totally agree, and it kills me. when i work up the funds, i’m gonna spring for the css upgrade and see if i can fix that.

      as of right now, that freaking header is a hazard of using the theme i love (superhero), and there isn’t too much i can do about it without paying a little money and editing some coding.

      thanks for the spot-on criticism, i really means a lot to me,

  5. Ah yes, the ubiquitous mayonnaise + corn-topped Japanese pizza… the only good thing Japan’s ever done for pizzas was to crack an egg on top of them.

    (Which, now that I think about it, is so odd because Japan has REALLY good NON-pizza Italian food!)

    • seriously! japan has awesome european inspired cuisine. their french restaurants are amazing, as are the authentic italian ones. honestly, the only type of cuisine japanese people can’t seem to pull off with relative ease is latin american food. i always thought of tex-mex and latin american cuisine as easy, but i guess not. maybe the ingredients are just too hard to come by…

      • I know! Such good French and Italian food in Japan, like you said. I agree they are lacking in the Latin American department (definitely missing some crucial ingredients… although having made both mole and tamales recently, I have to say that I don’t necessarily think of Mexican food as easy). I also think—depending on the Japanese city—that there’s a real, sad shortage of good SE Asian food, like Vietnamese and Thai, and a shortage of fresh cilantro—I guess those go hand in hand. (The cilantro shortage also makes any attempt at fake-Mexican/Okinawan fusion doomed to failure…) But then as a trade-off, there’s so much good North Indian food in Japan! That was always nice. :)

      • yeah, i agree. the indian food is pretty skillfully executed. my area has some really awesome authentic indian eateries (and the pricing is super reasonable, too).

        i think one of the reasons for the extreme lack of cilantro is that many of the japanese people i have met just don’t like it. they don’t like the smell or the taste. i’m not exactly sure why, but it just seems to be one of those flavor profiles which lends itself to some palates and not others.

        i’m with you, though. i love fresh cilantro, and it is such an integral part of se asian food. pho ga and yum woon sen (two of my favorites) just aren’t the same without it. i have, however, taken some solace in mitsuba (a.k.a. wild japanese parsley), which looks and tastes very similar to cilantro. it is a little milder and slightly more bitter, but on the whole it can act as a substitute in recipes which desperately require a good dose of coriander-induced zest.

      • I’ve heard it’s possibly partially genetic why some people love cilantro and others hate it and think it tastes like soap. But then my mom hates it and I love it, so genetics isn’t everything… and I know Japanese friends who like it, too!

        I never thought of substituting mitsuba! Wish I’d thought of trying that when I lived in Japan. Not that I cooked much, with all the great restaurants I frequented… but I did still make Thai curries kind of often, with pre-made curry paste and insanely overpriced cans of coconut milk from the international food store, and it might have been nice with those.

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