Experiments with Russian Pizza

December 9th, 2009 by Mark Leave a reply »

Dasha and I were in the USA this summer, and we spent a lot of time in Manhattan. Oh, how a man begins to yearn for good pizza, living here in Ukraine. (The sacrifices I’m willing to make for you guys!) The best pizza in the world can be found – if you’re curious – at Famiglia’s, just north of Times Square. If I recall, it’s at or around 50th and 7th Ave. Certainly in that neighborhood. Get a slice of plain cheese….

…and then mail it here, to Sevastopol. My address is:

Ok, kidding. But Russians just have no concept of pizza. Yes, you made it round, that’s a good first step Igor, but ultimately the shape isn’t nearly so important as the taste. If they remember to put tomato sauce on, it’s an afterthought. “A smattering of tomato sauce” would be a good description. And they ain’t using mozarella, I can assure you of that. It probably *is* cheese of some sort. Down at the chemical level, you are probably looking at cheese-like molecules. But it doesn’t taste very cheesy. And the bread itself upon which their “pizza” is based? Think: Plain old white bread.

I wanna grab the “chef” by the collar: “How dare you call this pizza?!”

But at least it led to a linguistic insight. I’m happy about that, even if I grumble every time I try a new pizza joint here. The insight was this:

Say “pizza” to a New Yorker, and imagine what thoughts run through their mind. (Especially if they’re regular’s of Famiglia’s Pizza.) Imagine the sight of it, the smell, and of course the incredible taste. All those associations a New Yorker has with that word.

And now imagine some your typical Ukrainian. Say the word “pizza” to them (the words are identical, even if the foods surely aren’t!). What image does a Ukrainian have in his mind? What sorry taste? What uninspired smells? There’s a huge difference between the meanings of this word between our two cultures.

And so many words are like that, even cognates. The reality of the two words are so different, you have to visit the country to truly understand the Russian meaning, the Russian concept of words like “pizza” and “apartment” and “train” etc.

So, come here to get a grasp on Russian language and culture.

Just don’t order a slice of cheese pizza while you’re here.

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