When the moon hits your eye

If there’s one thing that New Yorkers are particularly proud of, it’s their pizza. Now, given the staunch support of the British for their curries, I’m in no position to draw attention to the irony of the city having an Italian product as the foodstuff that most sums up their cuisine. Like the UK with its relatively large Indian population, New York has a high density of Italians, so it’s perhaps not surprising that there seems to be at least one pizza place for every ten heads of population in Manhattan.

Now, despite my love of the curry (and my upset about the inability to get a good curry in America) I am reluctantly prepared to accept that there are places in the world that make a better Indian curry than Britain. Like India, to pick a random example. But as far as a New Yorker is concerned, nobody makes pizza as well as this city. In fact, as soon as most New Yorkers get about ten miles outside the city limits, they start breaking out in a mozzarella sweat, for fear that they’re never going to eat good pizza again. As Joe Brown writes in this month’s Wired magazine, “it costs $482.79 to get a decent pizza in San Francisco – $17 for the pie, $85 for cab fare, and $378.80 for the flight to New York. Throw in $1.99 for tinfoil.”

I’m still getting used to the conventions around pizza purchase in the city. Firstly, it seems that plain cheese and tomato pizza is the only real choice of the genuine New Yorker. Sure, there may be the option of pepperoni or vegetarian, but I’m pretty sure that they’re for decorative purposes only, and that ordering one will lead to a trapdoor opening to plunge you directly into a wood-fired pizza oven. Secondly, cheese and tomato pizza is ‘plain’, and never margarita. That’s reserved for pizzas that have a bit of basil on them apparently. In this city, such flagrant flamboyance in pizza is to be discouraged. Finally, never ever ask for a cheese and tomato pizza, or even a piece of pizza. It’s a slice. And only a slice. Asking for anything else may well result in your snack having a third, less edible, topping…

In Britain, of course, having a slice of pizza from a takeaway place is pretty much the last resort of the desperately drunk (and even then only when they can’t find a doner kebab or a KFC). When I worked for a TV company in Camden, a place on the corner of the street on which we used to work sold slices of pizza that looked like they had been festering there since the early 60s. The fact that the establishment called itself “Tasty Corner” was in itself not a good sign. But after a few pints, you’d still see people taking their life into their own hands, eating pizza topped with meat so dubious that even those involved in the high pressure jet mechanical recovery of meat from animal bones would have turned their noses up at it.

Now, given my desire to blend in effortlessly with the locals, I’ve sampled New York pizza from a number of different places, and you can’t deny that it’s pretty damn good. Plenty of stringy cheese, good tomato sauce and a nice chewy base – what’s not to like?

No, the problem’s not with the taste. It’s the fact that almost without exception, these pizzas are hotter than molten lava on triangular slabs of furnace-blasted cast iron. One bite of pizza can be enough to remove most of the skin from the inside of your mouth. Having molten mozzarella clinging to your gums produces an excruciating pain that mimics what I’d imagine it’s like to have liquid candle wax splashed on your testicles. After one such nuclear pizza experience last night, my taste receptors went on immediate strike and are refusing to return unless I pay them danger money.

Interestingly, the guy who served me the aforementioned slice asked me if I wanted him to heat the pizza up, or whether I was happy with it the way it was.

The first person to invent a Hot Pizza Tongue Guard would make a fortune in this city, I swear.

12 thoughts on “When the moon hits your eye

  1. Alison

    Well said! There’s about a 1 minute window between molten hot lava cheese and a congealed wad of grease – but fortunately 1 minute is usually how long it takes for me to devour a ‘slice’!

  2. Simon George

    What do you mean “*what I’d imagine* it’s like to have liquid candle wax splashed on your testicles”…

    Have you forgotten our Friday afternoons so quickly?

    SG x

  3. Karen

    I like my pizza slices covered in pepperoni so I wouldn’t fit in well 😉 Also not a fan of the skin peeling off the inside of my mouth, it lasts for days, that horrible numbness!

  4. Expatmum

    I thought it was the sauce that burnt the roof of my mouth a few years ago? I still have very smooth skin up there. And here in Chicago, we are the home of the deep dish pizza, which to my mind, is revolting. A pizza pie, which has you gagging half way through, but Chicagoans are very proud of it, and of course EVERYONE’s Italian (or Irish).
    A few years ago, my real Italian uncle was visiting from London, and my next door neighbor, told him that she was Italian and then asked why he had a funny accent!!!!

  5. GrahameD

    To be fair Dylan, pizza in America is very different to real Italian pizza, just you wouldn’t be able to find anything resembling an English curry in India. They are both fantastic ideas brought to their apogee far away from their places of conception.

    And also to be fair – go to DiFara’s in Midwood, order a whole pie, thank me later.

  6. Brooklyn

    GrahameD:

    You had to go there, didn’t you.

    I agree that the DiFara’s pizza is great, but to start a “where’s the best pizza in NYC is debate” is to invite Iraq-like sectarian warfare.

    What about John’s for coal oven pizza, Stomboli’s for the best “street slice,” Lucali’s for “artisanal pizza, etc., etc. ? See what I mean?

  7. GrahameD

    Sorry Brooklyn, you’re 100% right. Asking for trouble. Let’s stop the madness right here.

  8. Brooklyn

    Thanks.

    Whew!!! That was a close one. If only the peoples of the world could do the same and withdraw from the brink of violence.

  9. LolaBloom

    Ha, great post. My mouth was watering. It’s going on 7 years since I’ve had a slice…oh how I miss it! They don’t even cut the slices big enough here to fold them!!! Can you even imagine?? AND, people here use a FORK to eat their pizza, my gosh… what has the world come to.

  10. R

    (i’m way behind in reading your blog, sorry!) Anyways, as a sicilian american, who has access to a brick oven pizza (at my parents house) I know that italian pizza and american pizza are different things, but what you mention above is quite right – you can regularly get a “plain” piece of pizza at many many places around the city for 2 bucks (or so) and be very satisfied. Oh yeah, and the burning? just takes a little getting used to!

    Thanks, i love your blog… keep on writing!

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