Worldbuilding: The Quest for Pizza

No matter where in time and space you are, foods that taste like home make life so much better. There are a lot of American comfort foods that might be replicable in 1600s Northeast Asia, if you knew what you were doing. Off the top of my head, some classics include: apple pie, mac and cheese, jambalaya, spaghetti, hamburgers and French fries, and pizza.

Apple pie would be one of the easiest to pull off. Pastries are pretty much a thing everywhere you’ve got wheat flour, sugar’s available, and apples can be found all over given they went in both directions down the Silk Road, travelers knowing a good thing when they bit it. A little cinnamon for spice would be the most expensive part, but it’d be available; the spice trade is up and running all over the place. Give a local cook a good description, or ask for some kitchen time, and a slice of hot apple pie is entirely possible.

Mac and cheese should also be possible, though you may have to get a bit more creative. Noodles, definitely available. Macaroni or shell-style? That, you would have to describe a dough press for. Or just get flat fettuccini-style noodles and go with it. It’s probably easier to get yogurt than milk, but you can get cheese… if you’re in a northern area influenced by the Mongols and related tribes. So, if you’re in or around Manchuria (named for the Manchus), you’ve got it. It won’t be cheddar, not unless you wrangle that off some English traders, but actual water-buffalo mozzarella is a possibility! And if you like a little chili powder to add a hint of heat? So long as it’s post-1520s, you’re in luck. The Portuguese brought chilis along in their galleys. We can date chilis in China to somewhere between 1520-1550s, in Japan by the 1570s, and they were widespread in Korea by 1614; likely brought over by Hideyoshi’s invasion of 1592-1598.

Which leads us to jambalaya. Chilis, meat, rice, sausage, basil, oregano, garlic, onions, cilantro, and a lot of recipes call for tomatoes. Garlic and onions are ubiquitous in Eurasia; oregano and coriander (cilantro) are also in Asia, and basil’s originally from India. Tomatoes… yes, they would be there, European trade brought them in the 1500s too. But most people thought they were decorative, not so much food. You can get them. Convincing other people to eat them might take a bit.

With all those ingredients, spaghetti should be a given. Mangia!

Hamburgers and French fries, though – likely not. Oh, you can do ground meat, ketchup, and pickles, but potatoes didn’t historically get to China until almost the very end of the Ming Dynasty, brought by the Dutch right as the Manchus crashed the party and created the Qing Dynasty. Korean relations with the Manchus were touchy. Which might explain why Korea historically didn’t get potatoes until the 1800s.

But the trickiest of all would be pizza, at least if you like the classic ham, onions, green peppers and cheese. There’s some disagreement on exactly when bell peppers (almost no heat) were created from chili peppers (varying degrees of heat). Jefferson may have encountered a variety in the 1800s. But most people trace them back to Hungary in the 1920s. That’s right, green bell peppers in the 1600s would be historically inaccurate.

…I can guarantee you if Jason ever gets back to modern Earth, he’s raiding a seed catalog. Pizza!


72 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: The Quest for Pizza

  1. Huh, I should have realized that some of our comfort foods would be available. Not sure if that will make it any easier, especially since there might or might not be side effects to the spices used in the apple pies.

    I totally feel for Jason in that situation too.

    …He might also grab a sample of chocolate to bring along too. Our chocolate might not be the same, and the spices might be important for very specific reasons, but there’s nothing wrong with introducing a variant that would be safe for anyone to eat. Whether the other characters like it or not is up in the air, however.

    Me? I prefer Pepperoni and pineapple on my pizza…

    And plain pizza, just the bread, sauce, and cheese is very doable! Even if it’s not Jason of Mary’s favorite, I really doubt either would complain.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. “Safe for anyone to eat” may have to be marked on an individual basis. Chae, for example, I already know would find modern peanut butter iffy on the safety meter, and it has nothing to do with the peanuts.

      (Cultivators have enough of a jury-rig in their systems that they often end up with weird allergies. Chae has one that most modern readers would not think of as a problem… except where she comes from it definitely is, and the realities of modern food production mean her problem would show up in very unrelated foods and some cosmetics.)

      Liked by 2 people

      1. True. I was thinking something more on the recreational side, for downtime, rather than something you might drink in preparation of a fight.

        …If that’s the case though, you might also want Jason to make off with some of the flavors that are popular from the region where he landed too…

        Liked by 3 people

    1. Sometimes it doesn’t matter, if you’re homesick enough.

      The 4th of July hamburger I made in Japan with ground meat that was apparently half beef and half pork still tasted close enough to bring tears to my eyes.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. They like to add some sautéed onions and egg, as well.
        (No idea what your specific example used, it’s just an observed pattern.)

        Come to think of it… Pork, sautéed onion, and egg, are all three things that I would use to get the best result out of hamburger made from an old bull or similar culled-due-to-age animal.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Just the beef and pork in my case, it was ground meat from the grocery store. If I’d wanted egg and onion I’d have had to add them myself ^_^

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d start with Brian Fagan’s “Fish on Friday”, and work outward.

      And I’m still looking on that; but given the bell peppers are supposed to have originated from Hungary, I’m guessing they may have been an offshoot of trying for new varieties of low-heat paprika?

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Book recommendations? My time has come!
      Much Depends on Dinner, by Margaret Visser – she takes a simple meal- salad, chicken and rice and ice cream (plus butter, oil lemon sand salt) and traces their origins.
      The Rituals of Dinner, same author- table manners, plates, etc are given the same treatment.
      Now, this is British focused, but it’s a great book: Taste- a history of the British Isles through their cooking by Kate Coloquhon. Fascinating.
      A short history of drunkenness by Mark Forsyth is a fun romp through history of how people have used/abused alcohol and intoxication.
      Salt – a World History by Mark Kurlansky. Guess what it looks at? Yep. Salt. Which, as anyone knows was a major, major trade article for millennia.
      Happy reading!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Thousand-yard stare. Memories of being trapped in France for a month and trying to find a decent pizza….

    The French have *weird* ideas about pizza. Although there’s a national chain called “Pizza Pai” that at least has a decent-ish plain cheese&pepperoni. With a sunny-side-up egg in the center, but that wasn’t so bad. Just… AVOID the goose-liver pate pizza. And be prepared to deal with lots of vegetarian pizza.

    If you’re ever in France, there’s *another* national chain called Buffalo Grill, which is in that vague area between fast-food and sit-down-dinner type restaurants. The decor is some Frenchman’s idea of American Old West. The “Canadian Buffalo Burgers” aren’t bad, and it’s one of the few places I encountered that had *ketchup* for the fries….

    Steak was… *weird*. If you didn’t want it nearly raw, it came out like boot leather. Except there’s this one small chain of steak restaurants called L’entrecote that has possibly the *best* steak I’ve EVER had (very reasonably priced, too). There’s no menu — the server just asks you how you want your steak. It comes out done-to-order, pre-sliced, with a side of shoestring fries. Of course, being France, the *wine list* is 2 full pages… Still, 10/10, recommend highly.

    …okay, back on topic. If Jason and Mary are jonesing for fries, what are the odds they might be able to get the word out about potatoes, or even grab some when Jason goes to Mexico? In my (limited) experience, taters grow darn near anywhere and take lots of abuse — they might be a good item to add to agriculture on the Korean peninsula during the Little Ice Age.
    “Just call me Mark Watney.”
    “Hey, I got that reference! Also, no — you’re not that funny. 😛 “

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Jason’s been in Japan a few times, he knows some of the hazards of foreign pizza…. (Mayo and octopus. And tiny hot dogs when you ask for pepperoni.)

      And on potatoes – oh yes. If (when) Jason gets near Mexico he has PLANS.

      Plans which will also include “check everything for mold before we bring it back, because potato blight sucks.”

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Apparently in the UK they now have pizzas with “kebab meat,” which sounds like it would be good. Gyro meat would work too, I bet…. (searches)

        Apparently gyro pizza is a thing, and that seems right — because Detroit does Greek as well as pizza. Yum.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Kebabpizza has been a thing in Sweden for 40 years now and it’s become the bestselling pizza overall in that time.

        Personally I prefer my curry chickenpizza with pineapple and banana – reactions when I say that is split halfway between “are you nuts?” and “that sounds quite nice actually…” Always fun to watch. 😄

        Liked by 3 people

    2. Potatoes can be dangerous, too– if you’ve ever heard someone complain about how there are XYZ,PDQ varieties of potato in the US, but only ABC varieties are approved for import or sale– that’s to cut down on the horrible poisonings.

      The ones in the US, you can avoid getting sick, much less dying, by just not eating the ones that are green.

      For folks who are interested:
      For folsk that aren’t, it’s the same toxin as nightshade …. ooh, that might be useful for some kind of a bait and switch, too.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m not very pleased with the last line of advice in that column:

        A general rule for avoiding illnesses like the ones described above? Green and sprouted? Throw it out.

        … but I suppose not everyone has the inclination or space to grow more potatoes out of ones that are no longer edible.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Oh, worse, for American varieties you just need to remove the eyes and then peel down below the green. And all potatoes, if it tastes weird and bitter, don’t eat it.

        But it’s a not-going-to-pick-easy-fights resource that included what the angle of effect was, so eh.

        I didn’t want to link any of the places that the other fights go on because those places are fighting! ^.^

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Some varieties, you put out when it’s going to freeze, and then go step on tehm– it basically juices them, and then you can wash it and make bread-ish stuff from it.
        (I don’t know if you still need clay, too, or not.)

        Liked by 1 person

  3. The thing that always frustrates me is when some isekai protagonist is dumped in a royal court and declares “I can make the most delicious food you’ve ever eaten!”

    …without so much as glancing at a kitchen to see what tools and ingredients are available or what they currently eat.

    I mean, I can make a pie, but I wouldn’t want to try it in an open hearth.

    There’s also always the possibility of getting halfway through a recipe and realizing you’re missing something like Baking Soda.

    And there’s also the possibility that it just might not match their tastes.

    There’s a distinctly imperialist attitude sometimes that a modern food is “more advanced” and therefore everyone will like it more than their local foods, which they are used to and nostalgic about.

    Just imagine some isekai protagonist proudly handing out pizza, and everyone hates it because they think the crust too chewy and dry and there isn’t enough fish toppings.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. *Snrk* Indeed, and I hear that. Nope, Jason and Mary would just be after making something they wanted to eat. If anyone else wants to try it, that’s their deal.

      I suspect, given stews, spices, and BBQ tendencies in Korea, the jambalaya might go over best.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. But yeah, a cuisine has all kinds of hidden assumptions about desirable tastes. Some of them are NOT the same. And most cuisines assume that the chef also has medical and religious/philosophical priorities that are the same as his customers’.

        Cooking is a good skill for an immigrant; but immigrant cooks are always finding out that X weird concoction is liked by his new customers, even though his old culture would think it is weird.

        Chop suey, for instance. I think it hit the “Americans like gravy and workmen need salt” chords, when it was first introduced. There is a Korean black bean sauce that is not spicy, which does the same thing.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Speaking of Cajun foods … Cajun fried catfish. Or a crayfish boil, if Korea has a similar species of crustacean that isn’t a lobster.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. They want anchovies!! My people!!!

      Clam pizza is a thing in… I think Connecticut? (searches) Yup, it’s the other component of the New Haven pizza style. The “artisan” look has traveled, but the clams not so much.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It’s a “white sauce” pizza. Not to be confused with Pennsylvania “white pizzas,” which are all cheese; or Detroit old style pizzas, which are cheese and deep crust, with a tiny bit of pizza sauce on top as a garnish.

        American regional pizza styles are a lot more different than people think, and they are based on all kinds of Italian regional cuisines. Plus local taste and available resources. Flatbreads and pies are really pretty forgiving.

        Liked by 3 people

      1. That could also make it tricky.
        I don’t know how many tomatoes it takes to make a batch of sauce but they can’t exactly buy a bushel at the market.

        Can you imagine trying to make a “rose sauce?”
        It would be expensive!
        And that’s even assuming the tomatoes grown for decoration are suitable for food.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Can you imagine trying to make a “rose sauce?”

        Well, first you need to pick enough rose hips at the right time of year…

        I’m actually looking forward to trying this in a few years if I can manage to cultivate enough wild roses to get a good amount of the fruits.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. “roses would be another thing Jason would definitely aim for if he got near the Americas ”

        This is my current horticultural experiment!

        I am happy to report that one can sprout the seeds from the wild rose in controlled conditions, though so far the germination rate isn’t spectacular. Maybe if I’d harvested the hips earlier than “during the January thaw.”

        My two sprouts (out of maybe 15-20 hips, call it 4 seeds to a hip on average) are about three weeks post-interrment and are about 5 inches tall.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Or possibly that’s too late, they need vernalization.

        Fortunately they can still breed true enough to not require grafting or clippings. (There are some “own root” fanatics among rose growers.)


      5. … though now that I think about it, how much cultivation renders a “wild rose” not wild enough to be effective on vampires…?

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Probably the first question is, what make the wild rose effective against them.

        I mean, an entrenched Mermaid will stop a main battle tank, and heaven help its infantry support. I’m not sure a vampire would even phase it.


      7. IIRC, during the 1600s, didn’t Europeans think that potatoes were evil? Or were used by evil people as aphrodisiacs? …Jason probably doesn’t know *Euro* history of this era well enough to avoid tripping that landmine, if he runs into Europeans (Spaniards?) in Mexico while asking about potatoes (and chocolate, of course). Oooh, drama! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      8. Regarding the poisonous tomatoes, I’m told part of that was because they were using pewter still for dishes. Which has lead in it. And tomatoes are pretty acidic, and can leech said lead into the food. I don’t know if it can actually pull enough lead to be an issue, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

        I’m also told there was a similar problem with pewter goblets and alcohol- in that people drank, and passed out so thoroughly that people took them for dead. And buried them. Coffins were pulled out with claw marks on the inside. My guess? That alcohol had been sitting in the goblet for a while, and if someone managed to wake before being buried, it was simply blamed on the drink being particularly strong this time.

        Liked by 1 person

      9. Technically they were poisonous. In the sense that people ate them off pewter plates, and the acidity of the tomatoes leached lead out of the pewter and into the food. So.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. “Realist Hero” kind of took the middle road on that one. Souma *did* create a bunch of delicious Japanese foods by using things the locals thought were inedible, but he had a lot of research first by the world’s best gourmand, and did the work to find close analogs of what he knew how to cook with.

        Liked by 2 people

    3. I guess I need to add cooking to the list of occupations that Isekais can readily do a implausible job of presenting the MC as successful at.

      1. Cooking. Know your freaking customers, their tastes, and what ingredients and tools are available.

      2. Engineering. a) a ordinary highschool education isn’t actually that impressive when it comes to theory and being able to apply. APplication is hard, and the theory of engineering is actually pretty deep. Pure academics who have the theory down cold may struggle with a specific application, or make a lot of mistakes. b) Making stuff is actually half or less of the occupation. A lot of the rest is knowing the economic, technical, and supply states of the world to identify which engineering solutions are actually useful enough to be worth the effort.

      3. Detective. Paying attention to subtle clues of behavior kinda requires a bit of understanding of what is usual for your suspects.

      4. Leadership. Know your audience, etc.

      5. Professor. Know your audience.

      Though, there’s a story on webtoon, the professor one, that is actually pretty good.

      The thing to miss, is that the intro bit not explicitly referenced later is important. He is really a shaman.

      All the other stuff he does? The method actor gone extreme? That is him channeling totems.

      The intro later is him getting a totem that becomes increasingly absurd in scope. And he can still use his prior totems.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, the traditional way immigrants got into the food business was other people smelling their cooking, and offering them cash. 🙂

        The isekai where the guy ends up as a mercenary unit’s cook starts like that.

        Or if X family had a cabin along the road, and people ended up stopping or staying with them. I think the Basque restaurant and hotel industry in the West started like that, because they came to the US to be shepherds.


      2. March Upcountry had an interesting inverse of that. I recall the prince ends up with an attached native shaman from a nearly stone age tribe.

        When Prince Roger is practicing, the elder recognizes pretty much immediately that he is using a much more sophisticated fighting style, but because he is an experienced warrior, he is also able to get a lot of it, and identify where Roger is probably missing in the basics.

        I can see an experienced samurai grabbing an isekai who knows kendo and extracting pretty much everything they know.

        Or worse, trying to use a technique that is not known at the time and having the old salt spot that they’re up to something as find it amusing.

        The thing about a lot of techniques is they are things the old masters were already doing, but may not have had words for or even directly think about.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. One other thing to keep in mind is different regions may have very different ideas of what tastes good, and what is unpalatable. I gather in Asia, bell peppers on pizza is liked about as well a broccoli is in the US. And vis versa.

    From what I understand, the entire salt cabbage family aversion is mostly down to a single taste bud. If you have it, the entire family tastes bitter. If you don’t, they don’t. I gather a lot of Europeans have it, but a lot of Asians do not.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Which means some people do like it. I, for example, am still mad that my favorite pizza place closed. I can’t find a good spinnacholli pizza anywhere.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. The best pizza I’ve ever had is one with grilled chicken, broccoli, and alfredo. It’s a white cheese pizza, but it’s not always available since the pizza chain I get it from doesn’t always have the alfredo.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can believe it. Have not found a place that does broccoli pizza, but if you have a Papa John’s near by, you can usually do a chicken tomato spinach alfredo pizza. With a thin crust it is really good.


  5. I hate it when this happens in isekai or transmigration stories, like sure maybe your protagonist is craving pizza, cheeseburgers, or tofu but a lot of people who didn’t grow up with certain foods will hate them. I can’t stand tofu even though my mom made the stuff at least once a month when I was growing up (although that might be because of how she cooked it but shrug). My comfort food is chicken noodle soup which could probably get made although I’m not sure about the spices I use in the broth.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “Hot rice with a big old pat of butter on it” is one of my comfort foods– not any special memories, it’s just warm and filling and Not Different.

      That’d be pretty easy to get, too.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Fresh homemade bread. The scent Does Things for me. I’ve been known to walk into Jimmy John’s just for the free smells. 😉

        I have to avoid making bread, though, b/c I’ll end up eating the whole loaf (with lots of butter, and probably some honey), and that’s waaaay too many carbs. 😦

        Back when I was a kid, between my sisters, myself, and father all going for the HOT FRESH BREAD like piranha after meat, no single person got over-carb’d. But my mother stopped baking it, b/c she wanted a loaf to last a few *days*, not *hours.* 😀

        Liked by 2 people

    2. Chicken noodle soup would be completely possible. I don’t know what you use, but for me the broth is salt, pepper, garlic, oregano, and rosemary, with the added flavors of the veggies I put in it if I’m cooking them from raw: onions and carrots.

      The only troublesome bits would be the oregano and rosemary.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Ginger apple pie isn’t too far off of ‘right,’ either, if you need to substitute. Inside of the variations inside of apple varieties, roughly.

    Modern Korean bakeries are DEFINITELY a great place to go for good, comforting food– and that’s vs US Navy cooking. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  7. On how many tomatoes to make sauce, this site has a HUGE conversion chart:

    And a website called Paesana says:
    Tomato sauce is first referenced in the Italian cookbook Lo Scalco alla Moderna (The Modern Steward), written by Italian chef Antonio Latini in 1692. Meanwhile, a recipe for pasta with tomato sauce appears in the 1790 cookbook, L’Apicio Moderno, by chef Francesco Leonardi.

    As for how a particular preparation of tomato sauce came to be known as “marinara,” one needs to look toward the sea. “Marinara” translates to “seafaring”—or colloquially to “sailor style” or “mariner style.” It was given the name marinara not because it was once a seafood-style sauce, but because it was the preferred meal of Italy’s merchants during long expeditions at sea.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. In spite of all the meatloaf memes and tropes, I actually like it. A pound of lean ground beef, half a pound ground pork/pork breakfast sausage, onions sauteed with bacon and mushrooms (sliced baby Bella’s preferred), some salt (try it with black salt!), pepper, garlic, oregano, maybe a pinch of paprika, and mix all that with one egg and a half cup of plain bread crumbs. Serve with pan fried potatoes (in the leftover bacon grease) and green beans.

    Damn. Now I’m craving some meatloaf.

    Liked by 1 person

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