On Sunday, I finally gave in and went to Pizza Hut. The Chinese restaurant where I planned to eat dinner had closed for the day, I was hungry, and the bright lights shone so temptingly, like stars in an enchanted city. Anyone who mocks the image has never been a sick traveler in a faraway land, and has probably never seen the Pizza Hut in Kota Bharu. It was the classiest joint in town that wasn’t along the expensive waterfront, a glistening collection of glass, tile, metal and plastic, all spotless – which was something I couldn’t say about most places I ate, with the exception of Kota Bharu’s McDonald’s.
The clientele was like McDonald’s too: a few Westerners, lots of women in tudongs, families with children as eager for junk food as I had been I was a kid. I couldn’t remember the last time I was in a Pizza Hut. Hell, I couldn’t remember if I’d actually ever been in one, come to think of it. Pizza Hut is much more of a delivery business in America, and we usually ordered Domino’s anyway. Or else we ordered from the greasy little local pizzeria run by two Italian brothers, one of whom was named Tony, the other Sal.
If, god forbid, we went out for pizza, which defeated the purpose of pizza to my mind, the purpose being to stay in and have a heart attack in the comfort of your own home… If, god forbid, we went out for pizza, it was always someplace fancy with a brick oven and real tomato bits strewn all over the pizza. I did not ask for these, they just added them. One trip to these places was usually enough, and I refused to revisit after that. I couldn’t stand the tomato bits, which looked like something someone had previously eaten, and I learned that the more people turned their noses up at the pizza at a place, the more I would enjoy it. It would be greasy, cheesy, and the tomato sauce would know its place, plain and simple.
I wasn’t a gourmet, I was a gourmand, the difference being the gourmet sticks his nose up, while the gourmand just wants the food to taste good and go in his mouth. I would prefer to avoid salmonella, but as my current predicament indicated, I was clearly flexible about the risk.
Most of the menu in Kota Bharu’s Pizza Hut featured things that were not pizza. None of the specials mentioned pizza. They were things like herb-roasted chicken, but I was here for a reason and I flipped ahead until I found what I wanted, quietly ordering a pepperoni pizza. I hoped the Muslims at the next table wouldn’t hear me and decide to institute Sharia law to punish me for eating pork. Muslims can’t eat pork, and I think this explains a lot of the tension in the Middle East. Say all you want about anti-Zionism, the lack of available women for angry young men, American foreign policy and oil, but try and take bacon away from most Americans and you’ll see what holy war is all about.
But I digress. The pizza came, covered in grease and cheese. It tasted delicious, exactly what I hoped for, a real American thick-crust pizza, enough to fill me up and send me burping out into the night, perfectly content and happy.
It was totally worth the impending heart attack.