Food & Drink | December 16, 2019 2:56 pm

Searching for the Origins of Japanese Pizza Toast

What one man's walk across Japan taught him about the dish

Japanese pizza toast
Japanese pizza toast

For those who are unfamiliar with Japanese pizza toast, it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a comfort food that consists of toast topped with melted cheese, tomato sauce and toppings of some sort. But as Eater’s Craig Mod writes in an excellent new piece, when he was an undergrad new to Japan, the dish was “became a bridge between where I had been and where I was to go. I didn’t think much of it then; it was just a food I knew I could reliably eat, and the kissa itself acted as a kind of buffer zone, a beacon of comfort, where I could drink black coffee and smoke and read novels.”

Mod’s piece chronicles his epic walk across Japan in search of the origins of pizza toast. Along the way, he stopped at countless kissaten, or traditional Japanese cafes from the Showa era (1926 – 1989) to sample their take on the staple.

“It’s also a sort of netherworld food that the Japanese don’t think about and visitors to Japan have assessed — if at all — with a mere tilt of the head,” he writes. “As in: Huh, pizza toast. It is a comfort food, part of the postwar food canon, falling squarely alongside the incongruity of Spam in Okinawan dishes and ‘Neapolitan-style’ spaghetti made with ketchup. It is a food that squeezes joy from very little. Simple ingredients, simple preparation. A meal that transcends economic circumstance.”

Though he doesn’t find the sole originator of pizza toast — “there is no original,” one kissa owner tells him — Mod does, of course, learn valuable lessons about the country’s cafe culture. The entire piece is worth a read, and you can check it out here.

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