Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place

I haven't seen my wife's brother since January - in fact nobody has - he's been working away and I guess, working pretty hard. He actually trained as a cook a couple of years ago and had the notion of opening up a kebab take-away, although I'm told this particular fad has now been and gone in Korea. Maybe it's just as well, urban legend had it that there were so many discarded food sticks on the streets of Busan a few years ago that vendors used to collect and reuse them. OK - everyone knows that just can't be true, but then if people can believe in fan death... Pizza on the other hand, is a type of food which is very much still with us, and the news of his return had us collectively thinking about what type of of place he might open instead, with near-inevitable results.

I have a radical idea for this new establishment's menu. They should make some pizzas with sauce. Yes, once upon a time the Italians invented a food which along with its dough base heavily featured cheese and tomatoes, but you wouldn't know it in Korea, where the local pizza appears to be more of a cheese-on-toast derivative than anything connected with the red fruit (or vegetable depending on where you stand on that particular debate). "Show me the sauce!" I cry regularly in my best Jerry Maguire voice.

Strictly in the interest of scientific research, I have carefully dissected several local pizzas and I can tell you that while they often feature enough layers of cheese to keep an archaeologist happy for several years, what sauce I have seen appears so watery in nature I swear they must be squeezing it from a bottle, possibly the Tabasco one which invariably appears on your table to encourage acts of sacrilege. But given that Korean pizzas appear to have drawn heavily from nanoscience to produce a layer of pseudo-sauce one molecule thick where it exists at all, there simply isn't enough material to conduct a chemical analysis.

So what should we call this new pizza establishment? Yonggug ('영국' - UK) Pizza was a name that quickly fell by the wayside, partly because Ask, Enquired has the British nationalism market wrapped up here, but mostly because after the way my Government has treated me in the last year I'm not sure why I want to be promoting my country in any way, even if it is home to a take-away which makes the best pizzas I've ever tasted anywhere (only 200 meters away from my house - coincidence? You decide.) Pizza With Sauce seems like an obvious and suitably literal title but I'm sure if we put our mind to it we'll come up with something better. But perhaps it will turn out that Koreans like their cheese on toast variety of pizza rather than made with tomatoes.

It is really odd - it's not simply that Korean pizza places are skimping on the ingredients. I've seen some pretty extravagant creations here, pizzas with potatoes on top, sausages in the crust, on the crust, in crusts turned into mini-hotdogs, toppings of kimchi (of course), bulgogi beef, peaches, raisins and pizzas with so much Tabasco sauce you can almost drink it off the top. Not to mention the infamous 'combo pizza' with it's don't-ask-don't-tell meat. And of course, there's always plenty of cheese - which is actually a bit of a national crisis here now since China's voracious appetite for it is pushing commodity prices up and squeezing out the Korean pizza makers. Disaster.

Maybe I've been unlucky but so I've only found one place that seems to know how to use tomatoes - and that's Ijaemo (이재모) Pizza in the Nampodong district of Busan. And for that I can almost forgive Ijaemo their ham and pineapple pizza sans ham but with raisins which is therefore just the wrong side of achieving greatness.

If my Government make my exile official on December 19th and I have to live in Korea for the foreseeable future, I need to find an apartment as close to Ijaemo as possible, as it's probably too much to hope for that Korean Brother will eventually see my dream of pizza with sauce realised near where I am now.

And did I mention the lack of herbs? Let's not even go there.

Korean tags: 양식, 식사, 피자


Anonymous said...

From what I've been told, pizza is very cheap to make. How can anyone put raisins on a pizza? Someone needs to instruct Korean pizza makers that red tomato sauce, seasonings (salt, pepper, oregano, garlic, and parsley), pepperoni, and sausage are basic ingredients for pizzas. I feel bad that you have to suffer through all those bad pizzas!!!

ZenKimchi said...

There's a little one-man shop in a back alley south of the river in Seoul that serves the best pizza I've ever had in Korea. I can swear he puts wine in the sauce. And he makes an authentic Margherita pizza with fresh basil.

FRESH basil.

I should add, though, in Italy, the crust is the most important aspect, and they don't like lots of sauce and cheese.

Mike said...

Anonymous - thanks for the sympathy - I need it :-)

Back home we used to make pizzas from scratch - base and everything - with high quality ingredients and I'd say it cost us about $6 per pizza. We'd do it here but sadly we don't have an oven nor the space to cook in our one-room apartment.

I know it's terrible to say it, but the raisins actually work for me, though I'd swap it for some nice slices of ham in a heartbeat.

Mike said...

Zenkimchi - my mouth is watering at the mere thought...

I like a good authentically minimalist Italian pizza which doesn't end up sagging under the weight of its toppings, but I'm not adverse to the American style either.

Korean pizza just seems to be cheese overload and sauce-less and the balance is all wrong. If they'd just give me a little sauce I could live with it, but as it is they're just torturing me here.

Fresh basil... amen to that. We used to grow our own for our home-made pizzas :-) Ah happy days!

Anonymous said...

Where is this back alley guy's place? I won't never have a pizza like my Brazilian pizzas, but I'm really willing to give a try to this one, with no sweet potato in it...

Anonymous said...

Not hard to find decent pizza Stateside...

No offense, but life in these ex-colonies isn't even half-bad. I'd rather live here in a major metro area than in Korea in a major metro area. At least I can afford a house and a yard here.

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