About a month ago in Nanjing, I had a bizarrely delicious lunch—kimchi pizza—and immediately thought to myself, this has to be a blog post. Now, sitting in a café in Burlington, Vermont, my blog covered in the internet version of dust, that kimchi pizza seems worlds away. I’m a terrible blogger. What had I wanted to write about again? Something about globalization and worldwide connections. I’d been hoping to write something about pizza’s journey from Italy to America to Korea to China, and how each incarnation reveals something essential about each consecutive culture. I’d been hoping to write something meaningful and profound. But as the weeks passed and I neglected my blog, I began to forget about my original intention. I began to think that it wasn’t a dish or a cultural icon that was spreading around the world, it was only a word: pizza. The farther “pizza” travels, the less specific its definition becomes.


My kimchi pizza was a thick layer of chewy bread, topped with hefty portions of spicy cabbage and cheese, sprinkled with dried seaweed and generously drizzled with mayo. It didn’t taste like pizza. It tasted like the cheesy Korean-fusion franchise food that is super trendy in China right now. It tasted like the florescent mall filled with artificially fresh-faced shoppers in floral dresses, trying desperately to evoke a sunny, pastoral lifestyle that has never existed in Nanjing, and never will.

About a week later, I saw an intriguing advertisement in a different fluorescent mall: durian pizza. I ordered it, naturally. It was square, had a flaky pastry crust, and was filled deep-dish style with fresh durian and plenty of melted cheese. As a lover of stinky-sweet durian (some say it’s an acquired taste, although I never had to acquire it), I found it delicious. But it didn’t taste like pizza. It tasted like the Hong Kong-style durian dim sum I shared with my Chinese friend Fiona, who was eager to show me China’s fanciest desserts. It tasted like brocade tablecloths and traditional songs sung by pop stars and the caged peacocks in Kowloon Park.

Fast forward. I’m home. I’ve flown back to Vermont for a few weeks to escape the hordes of people and random explosions associated with Chinese New Year. My dad pulls a grocery store mushroom-and-basil pizza out of the oven and slices it into uneven triangles. It tastes like late night dinners with my hair still damp from hockey practice. It tastes like snowed-in evenings with The Simpsons on TV and the porch lights reflecting off each falling snowflake, and it tastes like the gleeful anticipation that school might be canceled tomorrow.

This, to me, is what “pizza” means. It’s completely different from bĭsà in China and pija in Korea. It’s completely different from the tomato pies sold by the first Neapolitan immigrants in New York and New Haven.

The word “pizza” no longer indicates a specific food; it indicates an entire category, more like “sandwich” or “dumpling” than “beef bourguignon.”

Nobody’s pizza is better than anybody else’s. I don’t think we can even say that one is more authentic than the others, since none bear any resemblance to the flatbreads that Wikipedia claims first appeared in the Neolithic age. Maybe everybody has “their own” pizza, the one that first taught them what the word should mean.

You say tomato, I say kimchi and seaweed.