This article is not about how weird the Japanese are with their pizza toppings; it's about how lame we Westerners are with ours.
Photo by shibuya246
Pizza is the greatest of mankind's foods. The idea is simple—baked bread with stuff on top. But somehow, modern pizza toppings have gotten narrowed down to a handful of tasty but boring ingredients—pepperoni, sausage, onions, green peppers, and maybe barbecued chicken if you're wild and adventurous. Where's the creativity?
In Japan, there are no rules whatsoever. Anything can and does go on pizza. Eating the pizza is one of the unexpected thrills of moving to Japan.
Delights from under the sea
Back in the US, there are some crazy people who are bold enough to try seafood pizza, but that old cliché about holding the anchovies still holds true for most people. In Japan, it's commonplace to put deep sea creatures on your pie. Common toppings include shrimp, tuna, squid, octopus, clam, scallops and salmon.
The tuna actually blends well with the cheese and sauce, especially when it's cream sauce. A particularly popular type of pizza that you see at many fast food pizza shops is the kani-mayo kingu (カニマヨキング – crab-mayonnaise king) that uses mayo as its base instead of tomato sauce. That's Japanese mayo, which is lighter and fluffier than what we have back home.
Bits of squid and octopus are often used and you may even find entire tentacles. These offer a chewy contrast to the sauce and cheese.
Tarako (鱈子 – cod roe) is another common ingredient. It adds a tangy zip to the pizza and works well mixed in with the sauce.
Veggies that aren't supposed to be on pizza
The first time I saw potato on a pizza I was skeptical. It was Pizza Hut's Idaho Special, I believe. But the soft potato chunks tasted great and blended well, and I was converted. Corn is a topping choice I was skeptical about. It's probably one of the most common ingredients on pizza and actually, you find it everywhere in Japan. Cream corn is especially popular.
One veggie topping that I still haven't gotten into is asparagus. Whole stalks are laid on the pizza, usually in a sort of wagon wheel pattern. The only trouble is that when you bite into one, it's tough to bite off a section of it, and then the entire stalk comes off the slice.
As you can probably guess, seaweed is often put on pizza as well, especially nori (海苔 – purple laver) which adds a crispy texture on top of the cheese and other toppings. Other vegetables that make appearances include broccoli, various mushrooms, eggplants and green onions, in addition to the standards like green peppers and onions.
Photo by tour of boring
The fried egg and other odd toppings
One of the gooiest and most brilliant ideas I've yet seen from Japan is to put a fried egg right in the middle of your pizza. It goes at the center where the slices meet. When you pull the first slice out of the pie, the yoke breaks and infuses the crust and cheese with its eggy gooiness.
There are a few pizza toppings that I've heard about but haven't had a chance to taste. Supposedly there are some places that put French fries on pizza. I've also heard of pickled ginger put on pies. But the ultimate pizza topping that tops my list is eel. If anybody knows where to get some in the Kanto area, give me a heads up!
Living in Japan has taught me to see pizza in a whole different way. Why stick to the same handful of ingredients when your fridge is full of things that can be thrown on your pies? The Japanese are endlessly creative about food and we in the West could learn a thing or two from them.