Pizza Flavored Steamed Buns: Stupid, or Genius?

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

Leave it to the Japanese to take two great ideas from foreign countries—pizza from Italy and steamed buns China—and mash them up into one single, awesomely weird product.

Walking into a convenience store in Japan, initially everything is familiar. You've got the cold drinks at the back, the packaged snacks and household supplies in the middle aisles, the magazine racks near the register, and of course the hot windows of ready-to-eat snack. It's in the details where the differences emerge. At a 7-Eleven in the U.S., you can go-go for a taquito or any number of hot-dog-shaped snacks (including hot dogs) from the rolling heaters, or you can get your cheese and chili on with a batch of top-it-yourself nachos.

In Japan, on the other hand, you've got a window full of rice balls in flavors ranging from pickled plum to spicy pollock roe, skewered beef guts or fish cakes simmered in broth, or—a relative newcomer to the snacking scene—Chinese mandou-style buns, commonly called simply man in Japan.

The usual suspects are there—pork, cabbage, mushroom—but this time I was interested in the single neon-orange specimen with the intriguing name pizza-man. This, I thought to myself, has the potential to stagger me with its genius.


Ripping into the soft steamed dough, the initial aroma is indeed pizza-esque, with some nice notes of tomato and basil, but a quick bite reveals that it's actually much more similar in flavor to, say, chili mac or American chop suey—a little sweeter than pizza with tons of onions and a meaty aroma (though there didn't appear to be any meat inside). The cheese was obviously there—it stretched right out—but the flavor was absent.

Bummer. I was hoping for awesome like a million hot dogs and I all I got was awesome like a single hot dog.

Of course, the idea is still genius, and I'm hoping that some day somebody will do it justice here on my home turf. I mean, with Little Italy located right next door to Chinatown (and my office conveniently located smack in the middle of the two), isn't it inevitable?

What's your vote, guys? Stupid, or genius?