Three Japanese Guys Go Into A Pizzeria

No, this is not an ethnic joke. I had the occasion to observe three 30-somethings and their American host at my favorite place the other day and several things occurred to me. First, we take a lot of things for granted when we eat in public restaurants. If you don’t know the script, it can be painfully confusing. This was evident as the men gazed uncomprehendingly at the two menues–one for the food and one for the wine and beer. The host came to their rescue and walked each one through a drink selection: one Italian red, one Italian beer, and one Sprite™! After minutes of intense scrutiny, they looked again to their host for guidance on the pizza. He ordered four different pies to let them sample some well-made, traditional Neapolitan combinations: margharita, capriccosa, diavola, and funghi e salsiccia. I remember eating in restaurants in different parts of the world where I felt the same confusion as these men. I could decode the ingredients, but I couldn’t figure out what the plate would look like, how the items would be arranged, or what the taste implications were for each choice. What must it be like to taste pizza margharita for the first time? Four simple ingredients–flat bread, marinara sauce, fior di latte and basil leaf–that add up to something far greater than the sum of the parts.
It’s worrisome to cross cultural boundaries when it comes to food. The satisfaction of one’s peckishness hangs in the balance, not to mention the display of savoir faire. I marvelled at the ease at which these fellows placed their trust in the host. Would I be able to do that if the tables were reversed? Or, would I forge ahead, confident in my cosmopolitan food sense to ferret out the good stuff. It is a contest, you know. Pick the wrong dish, like the wrong parking spot, the wrong suit of clothes, the wrong mate, and you lose points. I’ve never been quite sure who was supposed to keep score. Is there a cosmic scorekeeper, or is it like golf? These men had obviously left that game behind. For them this pizzeria was an undiscovered territory, full of wonder.

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