We like pizza in our family. It’s a meal that Andrew and I can both agree on and it’s easy to make so that we both like it. My side will usually have some combination of green peppers, tomatoes, onions, pineapple, mushrooms, olives, pepperoni, and cheese. I like a lot of topping on my pizza and really am not too picky. Andrew’s side of the pizza will be void of mostly everything. His favorite kind of pizza is margarita, which is just a fancy way of saying cheese pizza. Plain.
There have been some pizzas that I haven’t been too fond of, however. Most of them I had while I was living in Russia in 2004. They don’t do good pizza in Russia.
My friend Tiffany (who, by the way, recently got engaged) and I went to an enrichment activity shortly after we moved to Russia. Since neither Tiffany or I spoke much Russian at the time we felt a little ostracized.
Eventually one of the sisters noticed that we were feeling a little out of place, huddled together in our own little corner, and she looked right at me and said…something.
I thought she asked what our names were. That would be have been a logical first question to ask, right? After all, she didn’t know our names. And I swear I heard her ask for our names. So I answered her.
“Меня зовут Нэнси, и eе зовут Тиффани,” I managed to get out in my 101 level Russian. “My name is Nancy, and her name is Tiffany.”
The whole room cracked up laughing. Tiffany and I shrunk farther into our corner while the ladies continued to laugh and talk about us. It was not cool. Especially because I understood some of what they were saying and not all of it was very kind.
Tiffany and I got to have the last laugh, however, because that night for enrichment we were making American-style pizza. A sister had brought a recipe that she had found on the internet. I have no idea where.
The dough was pretty standard and Tiffany and I were getting excited for some good pizza. The last pizza we had was in the head teacher’s apartment the first couple of weeks we were in Russia. It came on crust as thin as a tortilla, with a couple of slices of cheese melted on top, one whole olive, and random herb leaves sprinkled on top, also whole. It was not satisfying so we were thrilled about some good home-cooked American pizza, and things were looking promising.
When the dough had finished rising and we had it ready to go in the pan, they brought out a huge jar of mayonnaise. Tiffany and I looked at each other quizzically. We didn’t realize what the mayonnaise was for until it was too late.
The mayo-loving Russians had already popped the jar open and dumped it onto the delicious-looking crust. They spread it all over, just the way I do with my tomato sauce. Nice and thick.
Then they brought out the toppings: tomatoes, corn, pickles, bologna and cheese. Sounds delicious, doesn’t it?
It wasn’t. Tiffany and I were each given a big slice, which we politely accepted, and then tried to inconspicuously choke it down. It was awful.
Warm, gooey mayonnaise was dripping all over the place and mingling with the taste of cheap bologna, pickles, and corn. Our Russian sisters were clearly enjoying theirs. We were merely exercising our gag reflex.
The only thing that could have made the pizza more Russian was if they had put beets on it as well. It was the most un-American thing my American palate had ever tasted. And it was nasty.
“Just like home, да?” the same sister who had laughed in my face earlier asked me in the cloak room while we were getting bundled up to go home, “American pizza.”
I don’t know what got into me—perhaps it was the embarrassment I had suffered earlier or perhaps it was just too much mayonnaise—but somehow I forgot my manners.
“Нет,” I assured her, “Это не пицца!” No, this was not pizza.
It was her turn to act embarrassed.
I still feel badly for saying that to her when she was basically in charge of the activity. That said, it’s probably best if her recipe was never again duplicated.