Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Chinese street pizza
A few years ago the Chinese began to make noises that they had been the ones to invent pizza. The proof was in the street food--Chinese pizza was popping up all over Beijing and Shanghai in small stores and right out on the street. Oddly, though, they didn't mention inventing the stuff until the mid-aughties, long after Pizza Hut already had a toehold in China. No matter. It was called 'Tujia Minority Chinese-style Pizza' and they were sized like the personal pan pizza you can get in America.
Tons of Chinese pizza shops and vendors set up a couple of years ago, and seemingly shut down soon after. Tujia Minority fad food, I guess.
So when I ran across these women slanging what appeared to be fried bread in the Zhichunlu are of Beijing, I had no idea what their game was, but I knew that I wanted in on it.
It didn't look like the traditional Chinese pizza due to the size--she'd make a giant one and chop it up and serve 4-6 people with each one. The spread was a mystery to me. It didn't taste "Chinese" to me, it had a definite Italian buzz about it. I think it was made with tomatoes and/or eggplant but I'm really not sure. After she took it off grill she topped it with sesame seeds and chopped scallions.
I liked this stuff so much that I ate it three days in a row. This is also because I find every visit to a (cheap) restaurant in China excruciating. My attempts to communicate in broken Chinese is met with giggles and I usually end up playing charades and acting out what I want for lunch. Street food is easy because they usually only make one or two things and you can just point and say "zhège."
For some reason, probably due to my unusual size and coloring, the woman refused to believe that I wanted just one serving, and every day gave me two. Usually I just pay with a tenner to avoid trying to communicate about how much it costs, and a tenner will always cover street food.
So the first day she gave me 2 bags of pizza and ¥4 back. From this, I deduced that the bags cost ¥3 each ($0.45). The next day I handed her a fiver and made a hand gesture that I thought indicated "small." Apparently it came off as "I want two servings, but in one bag for a fiver." At this point, I realized it was a lost cause. The next day I handed over a fiver and waited for my giant bag of pizza. Instead, she demanded that I give her ¥1 more, and gave me two bags of pizza. The only explanation I can give for the varying sizes and prices is that nothing in China makes any sense, and trying to understand anything is an exercise in futility. It was delicious, regardless.