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May 21, 2009 01:19 PM

Cheese on pastrami is kind of like corn on pizza [moved from LA board]

Cheese on pastrami is kind of like corn on pizza.

Many people do it. It might even taste good. But is it right?

Mr Taster

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  1. "Many people do it. It might even taste good. But is it right?"

    Will the "food police" pull you over and give you a ticket for doing something that isn't "right?" And does it mean you'll have "points" on your dining license then? lol

    36 Replies
    1. re: Servorg

      We host a lot of foreign travelers in our home. Recently we got some Vito's pizza for a friend visiting from Vietnam, and she insisted on putting ketchup on it. She wouldn't even taste it without the ketchup!

      It all comes down to what context you view the particular dish you're eating. Coming from a society where pizza does not have historic or indigenous roots like Vietnam, there is no tradition to uphold and so anything goes. Maybe one day their ketchup and corn pizza will develop something altogether new and different, like Spam did for Korean budae jigae (which I can't bring myself to eat).

      Outside of the shadow of NYC where I grew up, the same apparently goes for pastrami. The problem as I see it is that Langer's is not run by Vietnamese doing a great attempt at copying NYC Jewish cuisine ... it's run by Jews with the same NY/eastern european roots as me. There's something a little sacrilicious about that...

      And, Servorg, I think what you're hearing are the treyf police sirens blaring in the distance... :)

      Mr Taster

      1. re: Mr Taster

        Did you let her know she was violating the NY / Chicago Pizza Convention (a corollary to the Geneva Convention possibly) and could be subject to prosecution at the World Court in the Hague for crimes against Pizzamanity? Maybe it was her way of saying that Vito's was light on sauce? Hmm, maybe she liked it that way? Nah, that can't be it.

        And sacrilege doesn't compute in a secular society.

        1. re: Servorg

          You misread "sacrilegious" :)

          Mr Taster

          1. re: Mr Taster

            Smite me with the jaw bone of an ass and serve me the marrow with a nice pinch of sea salt.

              1. re: Mr Taster

                That said my problem is with your assertion that someone can be "right" or, conversely "wrong" with their choice of how they configure their pastrami sandwich. Personal taste is just that. Right doesn't enter into to it, except for what is right for each one of us. And when you speak of the "treyf" police you do indeed raise the specter of sacrilege, no matter your cute spelling of sacrilicious above. You can't keep nibbling around the edges of your statement at the beginning of this thread without actually eating into the dried out filling of your flavorless, and ultimately, illogical argument

                1. re: Servorg

                  No food is an island.

                  If you see what appears on your plate without any history, story or context, it's certainly your choice, but in my opinion, that sort of narrow-sightedness is ultimately hollow and unfulfilling. For example, I ate (and often enjoyed) decades worth of gloppy Americanized Chinese food. Now that I've married a Taiwanese girl, have spent several months in China and Taiwan and have eaten Chinese dishes within the proper context, those Chinese meals of my youth feel... well, shallow and unfulfilling. Do they taste good? I'm sure some of it does. I still love those New York eggrolls. That's not the point. I've enriched my life (and my palate) by appreciating what other people have shown me, without dictating to them what I expect of them. I didn't get it my way, and yet I liked it, and I am a better person for it.

                  Food often has a story and history worth learning about. Honor it.

                  Mr Taster

                  1. re: Mr Taster

                    You argue both sides of this issue at the same time. You say that your tastes changed and that is a good thing. Okay, no problem. You say to learn about the history of food and to honor it. Problem.

                    Nothing stays the same. Life is change. Your taste changes and the recipes are changing right along with it. Whether it's cheese on pastrami (or mayo) or foie gras on my chapulines. If it tastes good to me then what's the issue? Dogma being dragged into the enjoyment of food is not a positive. Don't confuse your taste buds with mine. "I'll give you my pastrami with cheese when you pry it from my cold, dead hands." lol

                    1. re: Servorg

                      The reason you percieve me arguing both sides because you're viewing this discussion in a paradigm different than how I intended.

                      At its core, this has never really been a discussion about the "right way" and "wrong way" to eat food. It's about viewing food in context or out of context.

                      Your point is that the story doesn't matter. My point is that it does. That's the real issue on the table for discussion.

                      I feel that viewing anything out of a broader context is problematic, whether we're talking food, politics (Iraq, anybody?), or man's place in the universe. Now if you want to continue to make the argument that context is subjective and therefore means nothing, go ahead. I assert that context does mean something, and that my life is more enriched for having opened myself up to learning about these stories, flavors and ideas... even if my initial reaction was to be averse to them. (Taiwanese stinky tofu, anyone?)

                      Mr Taster

                      1. re: Mr Taster

                        I agree that context is very meaningful, but you are being fairly subjective in judging foods as lacking it. American Chinese food has a long story, as does any assimilated cuisine. Change doesn't remove context. Nor is context ever dominated by one region. New York's deli culture might not like cheese on pastrami. Many other, much older deli cultures put cheese pastrami. New York's pizza culture doesn't have a monopoly on context either.

                        1. re: danieljdwyer

                          You've made some very good points here. Yes, Americanized Chinese food does have a colorful and storied past, albeit a story much younger than the food traditions native to China. And I would definitely say that knowing the history of chop suey, for example, can help one appreciate the dish more, even if it's still hard for me to choke the stuff down.

                          And I'm not familiar with which "much older deli cultures" you're referring to, but if let's say hypothetically there's a gentile shop in Romania selling some form of proto-pastrami that's the forebear to Katz's, I would be totally into trying it (preferably in Romania, or in a well regarded local deli in a "Little Bucharest" which serves primarily to Romanians), with cheese if that's how it's traditionally served, and seeing how it compares to that which I'm used to, all the while learning about how the food developed. Again, context makes the food richer and more interesting.

                          I did some fascinating contextual taste tests in Czech Republic, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia too. In these places where Ashkenazic Jews and their foods are rooted, you find all sorts of proto-Jewish food (i.e. instead of schmaltz, Poland has "smalitz"-- rendered pork fat with onions, spread on bread!) And in Hong Kong, I saw the extremely distinct roots of the New York Chinese food I grew up with in the bowls of wonton soup, and suddenly I could imagine the waves of Hong Kongers flooding into NYC, bringing their recipes with them. Suddenly a part of my childhood growing up near NYC made a little more sense.


                          Mr Taster

                          1. re: Mr Taster

                            I didn't mean to imply that the other deli cultures of Eastern Europe are older than the Ashkenazi deli culture, just the New York deli culture. Similar as Ashkenazi deli culture in Eastern Europe and Ashkenazi deli culture in New York may be, at some point, probably the mid-nineteenth century, they diverged from one another.
                            And the other cultures I was referring to are the same ones you are referring to, as well as the more eastern Slavic peoples. Did you not encounter cheese on brined, spiced, smoked brisket in those contextual tastes? I would have assumed since they have cheese, meat, and bread, and no religious prohibitions against combining the three, that they did so. I've not traveled in Eastern Europe. I did grow up near a small Ukranian community - though they would never call themselves Ukranian and properly are called Rusyn or Ruthenian, they immigrated here from the Ukraine - which was Eastern Rite Catholic when they immigrated here, but has since splintered into Roman Catholic, Eastern Catholic, and Carpatho-Russian Orthodox. The deli we went to when I was growing up was owned by one, and, as such things go when your family is in one place long enough, I'm now related to many of them. The deli put cheese on the pastrami unless you asked for it without, and an in law of mine who makes his own cured meats and sausages puts cheese on his pastrami. I'm willing to grant that their customs may have changed since they came here from a land of cheeseless sandwiches, but I doubt that is the case.
                            Also, I tend to think of the development of food cultures as much more like biological evolution. For instance, taking the example of American Chinese food - and grossly oversimplifying by assuming that China has a monolithic cuisine - it's easy to see it as a matter of divergent evolution, not of one being older than the other. Before some point, roughly in the mid 19th century, there was only Chinese food. Then, Chinese food diverged into Chinese Chinese food, and American Chinese food. Neither one is identical to that mid 19th century pre-divergence Chinese food, but Chinese Chinese food is clearly much closer. Similarly, today we have chimpanzees and human beings, but once upon a time we just had the most recent common ancestor of the two. Chimpanzees far more closely resemble that common ancestor, while humans have diverged quite sharply.

                            1. re: danieljdwyer

                              Prior to the develoment of American Chinese food there was and still is Vietnamese Chinese, Indonesian Chinese, Maylasian Chinese, Filipino Chinese, Cambodian Chinese, Tibetan Chinese, and Mongolian Chinese (among others).

                              I wonder if chimps would agree with you that they look more like lemurs and tarsiers than humans do.

                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                "I wonder if chimps would agree with you that they look more like lemurs and tarsiers than humans do."

                                4 out of 5 chimps agree that tarsiers taste better than lemurs do. I, on the other hand, have always said that lemurs with a squeeze of lemon are the way to go.

                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                  Come now, Sam- he did acknowledge that he was oversimplifying in order to streamline his point, and his food-as-evolution theory applies to Vietnamese/Indonesian/Malaysian/Filipino/Cambodian/Tibetan/Mongolian-Chinese food as much as it does to American-Chinese food.

                                  Mr Taster

                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                    I understand that Chinese cuisine had already spread, and I stated that I was simplifying. That does nothing to diminish the point.
                                    The most recent common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees lived in the neighborhood of 6 million years ago, and bore no resemblance to lemurs, which diverged from the ape line over 60 million years ago, or tarsiers, which diverged from the ape line well over 50 million years ago. We have yet to identify a particular ape fossil as being the most recent common ancestor of chimps and men, but we have several from before the split that look pretty similar to chimpanzees, and several from both sides post split that look pretty similar to chimpanzees. Human ancestors looked pretty similar to chimpanzees until as recently as 3 million years ago. If you still don't find this to be an apt analogy, I'm sure there is one you can use in its place which you would find satisfying.

                                    1. re: danieljdwyer

                                      Actually, the missing link was revealed just over a week ago


                                      Mr Taster

                                      1. re: Mr Taster

                                        There are a whole lot of missing links, and that particular specimen, which the video identifies as 47 million years old, is thought to have lived around the time at which simians (apes and monkeys) diverged from prosimians - a classification that includes lemurs, aye ayes, bushbabies, tarsiers, and probably some others I can't recall, but in this case would refer to either just tarsiers, or, more likely, an extinct prosimian group, as all extant prosimians are thought to have already diverged by this point.

                                        1. re: danieljdwyer

                                          So, I guess we both studied primate evolution. I'm still looking for my own analogy, but am not going to stick it up where you implicity suggested.

                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                            My apologies if I'm giving off a bad vibe. I had no intention of implying you stick anything anywhere. I would have no reason to feel any ill will towards you simply for disagreeing. I meant no more insult by my comments than I assume you did, and any appearance of nastiness is simply resultant from less than ideal communication skills on my end.

                                            1. re: danieljdwyer

                                              I know that! I was just having some fun - together with you I hope. I really enjoy such conversations.

                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                Well shucks. And here I was thinking you didn't love me.

                                  2. re: danieljdwyer

                                    During my time traveling in eastern Europe I saw quite a lot of knodelen (spelled various ways, but more or less as "knaidlach" by Jews) in soup, and I ate lots of various stews, borschts, etc. But I never did come across smoked, spiced brisket (but then again, I wasn't actively seeking it). Now you've made me curious.

                                    And yes, I do think your description of food culture as an evolving evolution is more precise. The fascinating part for me is tracing back that evolution, that story, to find out where what I'm eating has come from.

                                    But I would still argue that there is a very distinct difference between the slowly evolving traditions and storied history that Katz's in NYC upholds, and the forced-evolution-by-cheese thing that Norm Langer does at his deli in Los Angeles.

                                    Mr Taster

                          2. re: Mr Taster

                            "No food is an island."
                            Maybe not, but perhaps it can be an isthmus or a peninsula, judging by how we are connecting pastrami to Australopithecus Man on this thread. I don't go to Katz's for anthropology lessons; bipeds take note!

                            1. re: Mr Taster

                              >>I've enriched my life (and my palate) by appreciating what other people have shown me, without dictating to them what I expect of them.<<

                              Isn't this contrary to what you are otherwise espousing? It reminds me of how Churchill and Roosevelt felt about Stalin sitting at the Yalta Conference.

                              There will always be room to admire and appreciate the anthropological aspect of food culture. However, to dictate how food should be or to hold it static denies how it emerged in the first place. I don't think Glog the troglodyte protested a violation of tradition when some innovative lad or lass with more frontal lobe figured out how to put meat on a stick, heat it up over a fire, and among other benefits made it taste more palatable. All cuisines have evolved over time and will continue to do so. At the same time, there is no reason to extinguish tradition. There's plenty of room for both.

                              1. re: bulavinaka

                                All over Asia, I saw foreigners like me challenging each other to choke down things like scorpions as a test of their virility, travel cred, etc. Many times they didn't even stop to find out if the locals actually eat scorpions. It was just a photo op to send to their jealous friends back home.

                                During my travels, I didn't eat anything just for the sake of eating it, and I didn't take any Andrew Zimmerman-style Fear Factor photos. But I did take the time to talk to local people (I speak some French and Chinese) and learn about the foods and how they relate to the cultures, and if it appealed to me (and sometime it didn't), I would take a bite.

                                Mr Taster

                    2. re: Mr Taster

                      One day I was at Costco and I saw an Asian couple loading their slices of pizza with the hot dog toppings.....relish, onions, mustard, ketchup....lots of it.
                      What was that all about.

                      1. re: monku

                        "Condiment Cadging" (or better known these days: If it's free I'm eating/taking/using it - no matter how bad it tastes or no matter how little I need/want/can use it).

                        1. re: Servorg

                          You're right "condiment cadging", I see people filling their Coke cups with relish and onions to take home.

                          1. re: monku

                            When I'm flying to or from Asia (from or to Colombia), over-nighting in LA, and have gas station gourmet corn dogs, "burgers", and Jim Beam (from across the street), I load up on those same condiments cause I love em and they're part of the evening's party theme - as is the hotel ice, the plastic cups, and American TV. Lots of jalapenos, pickles, pickle relish, mustard, ketchup. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm! But I guess you (or anyone for that matter) would have to be me to understand this.

                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                              Lots of partially-filled copas de qualquier color. And scoring a roll of TP while heading across borders was prescient thievery.

                                1. re: monku

                                  Nahh.. but if the gas stations had pizzas, I probably would load up on the jalapenos.

                                  1. re: monku

                                    And there were moments, many, when you would have traded your class ring for one roll of toilet paper. And when that was gone, you would have bartered with a kidney for another roll. I been there.

                      2. Pineapple I've seen, but CORN??????

                        19 Replies
                        1. re: Midlife

                          Corn is a very popular topping on pizza throughout Asia. Ketchup less commonly so :)

                          And your reaction to corn on pizza is exactly my reaction to people ordering the Langer's #19

                          Mr Taster

                            1. re: Dommy

                              I was just going to say that, but you beat me to it!

                              Not only corn on pizza, but corn on cornmeal crust pizza. Yowza!

                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                roasted corn on certain pizzas is ok, but I would not call it a "pizza" anymore.

                                1. re: stricken

                                  jfood agrees that certain items keep the term pizza on the table, others do not.

                                  jfood does like sweet corn on certain flatbreads but its not a pizza

                            2. re: Mr Taster

                              Green Giant Niblets???????????? Where have I been?

                              1. re: Mr Taster

                                I delivered pizza in college, and one of my faves was one half corn, onions, and tuna -- the other half was spinach, ham, and mushrooms ... totally awesome. Pineapple, tho? No fruit on my pizza, please. I Germany, pizza deliveries will not shy away from putting asparagus, speck, and hollandaise, or ground beef, bbq sauce, and beans on pizza. Ugh. Think chinese chop suey pizza.

                                I draw the line..... right after the corn '-)

                                1. re: linguafood

                                  In Algiers, pizza is very popular, and one of the favorite toppings is sort of a nicoise, with tuna, olives, etc. The cheese used is also much more like a gruyere than mozzarella.

                                  Good eating, though, regardless of what you call it.

                                  1. re: Striver

                                    Totally. My not-so-hi-brow pizza delivery service employer used industrial chunks of gouda, and shredded it. It's actually a nice melting cheese for pizza, if not 'traditional'. ssshhhhhhhh '-D

                                    1. re: Striver

                                      Somehow, unless I failed to catch it after a search for "Ital," no one has mentioned that corn and tuna is a popular topping combo IN ITALY. I had it lots in Puglia.

                                      1. re: tatamagouche

                                        I have seen tuna on pizza in Italy. I have never seen corn, though. The corn I've seen in Italy has been reserved for salads and biscuits.

                                        1. re: vvvindaloo

                                          I saw it in the south. Yes, on salads too. Biscuits?

                                    2. re: linguafood

                                      Tomato is a fruit that almost always shows up on pizza.

                                      1. re: phantomdoc

                                        Yah, well... duh. I didn't mention cheese, either, and I am a firm believer in cheese on pizza. Well, cheese anywhere, really '-D

                                    3. re: Mr Taster

                                      My sister and BIL lived in Tokyo for a few years. They would sometimes order pizza from Domino's. A very popular pizza was the Mayo Jaga (mayonnaise, potato, crispy bacon, paprika, onion, corn). And the mayonnaise was always in the criss cross pattern.

                                      Have a look at some of these -- corn makes an appearance on a lot of them! (mayo jaga is on page 3).


                                      1. re: valerie

                                        Japanese tastes seem to be changing. On page 4: "Drinks, coca-cola, Tabasco sauce"

                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                          I lived in Japan for years, but that was before you could get a pizza delivered. Putting mayo on pizza probably follows the traditional topping of okonomiyaki with mayo, along with tonkatsu sauce, katsuo flakes, and nori - a combo I love. The mayo is probably "Kewpie" brand, sweeter than good old Best Foods/Hellman's but the one you find in squeeze bottles at all the neighborhood grocery stores.

                                          On another note, the Camembert pizzas look great!

                                          1. re: KailuaGirl

                                            Pizza La, one of Dominos competitors, used to have a "Korean" pizza with bulgogi as a topping.

                                    4. re: Midlife

                                      corn is totally normal on a pizza in the UK - in fact I miss it in the US and have lived stateside for over 4 years.

                                    5. so is a Reuben sandwich the same as corn on pizza? Never thought so. Not too much difference between corn beef and pastrami except smoke and spice coating

                                      1. Mr. Taster, you're here in LA. Go to Oinkster, get their new pastrami reuben, and the answer might become clear. NOM NOM NOM!!!

                                        1. Though they don't call it pastrami, many non-Jewish peoples in Eastern Europe eat their pastrami with cheese. If a deli is claiming to be Kosher or trying to be a completely authentic Jewish deli, then they probably shouldn't put cheese on the pastrami. There are a lot of non-Jewish deli cultures. The deli that was in my hometown when I was young was run by a Ukranian Catholic, and all sandwiches came with cheese by default.
                                          Corn on white pizza is delicious. They eat it in Naples in the late summer when the corn is fresh. In Naples, they have no prejudice against putting any fresh produce on pizza. I've never seen pineapple there, but they don't seem to like produce that has to be shipped in.