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stormy weekend and japanese pizza

October 31, 2010

In the middle of the afternoon on Friday I heard a few whispers about a typhoon heading in our direction. Sure enough, when I checked the weather report for myself I learned that typhoon 14 would be hitting Tokyo the following evening.

For those who aren’t intimately familiar with storm terminology, typhoons are the Pacific Ocean equivalent of a hurricane. However, I learned early on that in Tokyo typhoons are really not that big of a deal.

The first time I heard that a typhoon would be hitting Tokyo was during my first week here in September 2005. I was standing with a group of other students outside Takadanobaba Station, where we were meeting before our first big nomikai (drinking party). It was sprinkling, and we were all huddled under our umbrellas trying to figure out what was going on (we had not realized at that point that most Japanese groups tend to set a meeting time much earlier than the time of the reservation).

We ended up spending 30 minutes standing around outside in a large group chatting and getting to know the other students before the party started. At one point, one of the Japanese students looked at her watch and commented casually that she hoped we would get inside soon, as there was atyphoon was coming and she didn’t want to get wet. Those of us who were new to the area all reacted instantly and with horror and shock.. “TYPHOON!? There’s a TYPHOON coming and we’re just standing out here in the open?!”

Rainy day lunch of avocado & tomato paste on toast, and chocolate, almond butter, & banana kefir.

Typhoons are actually stronger in intensity than hurricanes, on average, due to the warmer ocean temperature, and can really wreak havoc on the locations that they hit. However, Tokyo is located on a bay on the Eastern side of the main Japanese island of Honshuu (buffered from the Pacific Ocean by neighboring Chiba) while typhoons usually approach from the Southwest. This means that by the time they reach us, they have generally weakened significantly and are mostly little more than big, inconvenient rainstorms.

There was one particular typhoon last year predicted to be a pretty bad one. The trains were stopped in advance to prevent potential accidents, and it wreaked havoc on the city. My entire office was late for work due to this (I showed up at 1 pm and was among the first), but the storm itself never materialized, and I walked to work that day under sunny skies. We laughed about it for weeks.

Typhoon 14 did actually come complete with rain and wind on Saturday evening, though I don’t know if it ended up being as bad as predicted (they were saying 22 mm/hour of rainfall at its peak at 8pm).

Eric and I had been planning to go to his co-worker’s Halloween party at a club in Shibuya, and spent much of the day debating and going back and forth on whether we actually wanted to venture out into the storm. We probably could have made it in one piece, but ultimately decided to stay in as the club in question would be a 10-15 minute walk from the station and it was raining hard enough to make that kind of distance very unpleasant.

Instead, we snuggled up on the couch with Rocky Horror Glee and a few old Big Bang Theory episodes, and ordered pizza.

We used to order pizza once every month or two back in our old apartment; when I had nothing but a microwave, rice-cooker, and two electric burners, and before we discovered where to get good Italian style pizza in town. However, these days when the craving strikes I either make it myself or plan an outing to Pizza Salvatore Cuomo in Shinjuku. It’s probably been around a year or more since the last time we ordered in, and is likely to be just as long until we order again, so I might as well say something about Japanese pizza now.

Pizza in Japan is one of those things that takes some getting used to after moving here from somewhere like the United States. Back home pizza is so ubiquitous that there are options to suit everyone, and it is very, very affordable. Here, even in Tokyo, that is not quite the case.

There are several chains that deliver throughout the city. The main two are, of course, Pizza Hut and Domino’s Pizza, but there are several slightly smaller chains as well. At our old location we generally ordered from Pizza California, while at our current apartment we have always leaned towards Pizza-la.

Japanese pizzas are much smaller than their American counterparts, coming in at 25 cm for a medium and 31-36 cm for a large, depending on who you order from. The prices are also very, very different, with mediums going for between ¥1,800 – ¥2,500 ($18-25 US) and larges priced at around ¥2,500 – ¥3,500 ($25-35 US); though Domino’s seems to have a few up on their website right now that top out at ¥3,950 (about $40 US). That’s a far cry from the 2 medium pizzas for $5.99 each that Domino’s America is currently advertising.

We stick to Pizza-la for the lower price.

Japanese pizza chains, even the American brand ones, also offer very different pizza combinations than those you would find in the typical American menu. Instead of the common grouping of Plain Cheese, Pepperoni, Hawaiian, Veggie Deluxe, Sausage, etc. that you find on most menus back home, the most common pizza combos here in Tokyo are likely to be Margherita, Seafood, and the absolute favorite of Japanese children everywhere: Tuna, Mayonnaise, & Corn.

To round out those, the chains all have various other combinations, and generally offer crazy seasonally changing specialties that most Americans might find strange. Like the recent Millefeuille Pizza by Domino’s, which is constructed of several layers of crust, meat sauce, and camembert cheese before the toppings are added; or Pizza Hut’s answer to that, which also includes camembert cheese but rather than layers adds a ring of mini sausage rolls around the edge of the crust.

If you are not familiar with the Japanese concept of pizza I highly recommend that you take a few minutes to click on the links to the sites I linked above and peruse the menus.

Even after five years here, Eric and I still prefer the more American combinations when it comes to pizza. We decided to go for variety this time, and ordered two medium half & half pizzas. For the first we got half Margherita and half Italiana, which is pretty much a Margherita with more tomatoes, and went with a thin crust.

For the second pizza we went with half Italian Basil for Eric (tomatoes, basil, three types of meat), and half build-your own for me with onions, mushrooms, garlic, and asparagus, and got the traditional hand-tossed crust.

It was not as good as the pizza we used to get for less back home, but it’s nice to order in once in a while and check out the state of delivery pizza in Japan. I think I’ll be perfectly content to go back to making my own for a while after this, though.

What’s the weirdest pizza combination you’ve ever tried? What do you think of corn and mayo as pizza toppings?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 1, 2010 10:35 pm

    That asparagus doesn’t look bad at all! Last time we ordered pizza we went with Dominos only because they have a nifty iPhone app that tells you when the driver has departed and everything.

    • November 2, 2010 1:15 pm

      I’ve heard about that app! Apparently you can even order from the middle of Yoyogi Park and they’ll hunt you down via GPS to deliver your pizza. Craziness.

  2. November 2, 2010 2:14 am

    We ordered pizza when I was visiting you….but I have no idea what we ordered anymore. I think it was good. I think…hmm.

    I can’t stand behind anything that puts mayo and pizza in the same vicinity though.

    • November 2, 2010 1:17 pm

      I’m sure I’d have pictures somewhere to check. Probably similar to what we ordered this time, though we did get the teriyaki chicken once or twice as well. I’m pretty sure we also took you to Salvatore Cuomo on that visit. Possibly that was the time with the grilled eggplant pizza, but I can’t quite recall.

      The corn I can deal with, but I’m with you on the mayo.

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