“Everything about this pizza is just wrong,” I thought to myself, while I was having lunch by myself. It cost me $3.20 for a slice. I got it from the small bakery across Coles, near the train station. The one run by the little old Asian lady. I think she told me once that she moved here from Malaysia a long time ago.
Once, when I first started working in Caulfield, I asked her if she knew how to make bagels. She said yes, but I have to pre-order them. So I did, and she told me to come by the next day to pick them up. When I came by on the following day, I saw what she called “bagels”. She took bread dough, rolled it, made a torus, and baked it. I never got bagels for my money; I only got oddly shaped bread.
The pizza is what had me thinking today though, not the torus buns. Particularly just how wrong it is. For starters, the dough is just straight up bread dough. I feel like the lady did the “bagel” trick again and just grabbed a handful of the same bread dough and just spread it on a rectangular baking tray. A “rectangular” baking tray! To make “rectangular” pizza slices. How does she even stay open? We’re in Caulfield. I walked past at least three different places that offered great pizza. Some seriously cool hipster pizzas like pork belly and green apple or Spanish-style prawn and chorizo and they were all given cool people names in the menu like John John and Hugo.
She only offered two options, Hawaiian and “The Lot”. I wouldn’t wish pineapple on pizza to my worst enemy so we’ll move right on from that one. “The Lot” is what I always get. Square slices with a chunky tomato base, mushroom, diced ham, sometimes capsicum — sometimes not and cheddar cheese. Occasionally she’ll throw in whatever extra veggie left-overs she had, but give or take extras, the price is always $3.20.
Her tomato sauce is downright insipid. I think these tomatoes were bought from the “going” trays at Footscray Market. The baker then just boiled them up and called it pizza sauce. Then comes the pre-cut button mushrooms, and pre-diced ham from the Coles across her shop. Sometimes she added capsicum, sometimes not. Lastly, she would throw cheddar cheese “on top”. Yup, she put the cheese on the top, not the bottom.
When I was young, my brother TK and I fell in love with the Ninja Turtles just like every little boy across the world. Only in Myanmar, we didn’t get fresh episodes like other people. At least not until satellite TV came around. We watched episodes that my dad had videotaped for us when he came home from month-long journeys at sea. After watching one or two episodes, TK and I will want nothing more than this “pizza” that fictional teenage mutant ninja turtles who lived in New York ate. So naturally, we would beg and beg our mum to make us this “pizza”.
Mum’s bakery was a small home operation back then. Not this “brand” that the people of Myanmar came to reference in movies yet. So mum did what she can. She took bread dough from the bakery, spread it across rectangular trays and covered it with unseasoned chunky pizza sauce. She then added diced mushrooms, some diced canned ham, sometimes corn — sometimes not and random veggie left-overs. Lastly, she placed sheets of sliced cheddar. On top. Everything about that rectangular pizza was wrong, and my brother and I jumped with joy every time it came out of the oven.
And so, at least once a week, I now walk past three excellent Melbourne pizza cafes, and I spend $3.20 on the “wrong” pizza. I always make sure to thank “Aunty” for it, and I relish every bite of it. It’s prepared precisely the way an old Asian mum would try to make cartoon food for her two little boys, and it’s the closest I can get to my mum right now.
I missed my mum while I ate, and teared up a bit (Okay a lot). I also wondered what everybody who walked past me eating lunch like this would think. Probably “Is the pizza that bad?”.