My cousin visited me in New York City recently. Like a good host, I brought him to one of my favorite local pizza spots. He grew up in a kosher household. Although he doesn’t keep kosher like he used to, I’m still occasionally unsure of what we can order together. He suggested pepperoni; I suggested anchovy. We laughed, remembering a story from our childhood.
I was brought up as a pretty casual Jew. “Casual” meaning – I was Bar Mitzvahed, my family celebrated the major holidays, but that’s about it. Growing up, my aunt and uncle – my cousin’s parents – were the most Jewish people in my life. I spent a lot of time with them because I was close (and still am) with their son.
Growing up, I always gave my aunt, uncle and cousin a hard time about keeping kosher. I didn’t get it, both because of my age and lack of knowledge. Why would someone ever want limit what they ate? This is coming from a guy who would later experiment with a Paleo diet because some author told him it was a good idea.
One afternoon when I was six-years old, my aunt and uncle took my cousin and I out for pizza. At this point in my life, besides being ignorant about kosher eating like most other “casually Jewish” six-year-olds, I was also obsessed with the Ninja Turtles. I had just read a Ninja Turtles pizza book. In the book, the Ninja Turtles talked about how much they loved not just pizza, but pepperoni pizza. Naturally, that’s what I wanted to order.
Pepperoni isn’t kosher. Ordering, or attempting to order a pepperoni pizza for the table wouldn’t have been fair or respectful to those that did keep kosher, because not everyone could eat it. I know this now. But, as a six-year old, and a fan of controversy and the Ninja Turtles, this was a perfect reason for me to order it.
The thing is – I didn’t know what pepperoni was. When I looked at the menu, still not a great reader, I decided to order pizza with anchovies. I thought anchovy was pepperoni; The words were similar in length, shared the “e” sound, and seemed like something the Ninja Turtles would like. My aunt and uncle questioned my order (“Are you sure you like anchovies?”), but allowed it. After all, anchovies are kosher.
The pizza arrived. Upon my first bite – I was hit with a mouthful of confusion. It didn’t taste like the Ninja Turtles said it would. What are these skinny, slimy fishes doing on my pizza?
My aunt and uncle realized I was unhappy. I admitted that I had wanted to eat anchovies like a Ninja Turtle. My cousin, another Ninja Turtle scholar, quickly interjected: the Ninja Turtles ate pepperoni pizza, not anchovy pizza.
Attempting to order pizza like a Ninja Turtle taught me the difference between anchovy and pepperoni. Also, I learned that because of their eating habits, the Ninja Turtles probably didn’t keep kosher. I was in Jewish kindergarten at the time, and even though I had never heard of a Jewish ninja, I wasn’t ruling out their existence. I’d like to think if the Ninja Turtles were kosher, they would have ordered pizza with anchovies, too.
My cousin and I enjoyed our trip to my favorite New York City pizza spot. And, just to make up for that time when we were younger, I ordered pepperoni, non-kosher, just like the Ninja Turtles would have.