how pizza came to queens

I recently came across this multimedia composition by the New Yorker artist and children’s book author Maira Kahlman: And The Pursuit of Happiness. I’ve described it as the perfect anthem for my Digital Media Literacy Slow Food Movement Movement.

Ultimately, Kahlman believes a democracy would insure access to nutritious foods for all. Our democratic ideals would be reflected in our ability to appreciate where that food comes from and the degree to which we take the time to enjoy meals together. Slowly.

I knew Kahlman first as the creator of wildly colorful and uniquely lettered children’s books like “Hey Willy See the Pyramids” and “Sayonara Mrs. Kackleman.” I thought she was also the author of “How Pizza Came to Queens,” which was  published at around the time of those early Kahlman books.

Turns out I was wrong.

Dayal Kaur Khalsa, the actual author of “How Pizza Came to Queens,” created a beautiful tale that captured my adult imagination. As a kid who grew up in Queens and who ate a LOT of pizza, I was astounded by the overlooked obvious notion that some idenitifiable individual could be responsible for introducing an iconic food into our culture. It helped that the story was also beautiful and colorful.

I loved that the main character, Mrs. Pelligrini, given the chance, unrolls her prized rollling pin just before making pizza with the two children in the story. It reminded me of the display cases at the Ellis Island museum in which what immigrants brought with them is showcased. In many instances those making the long arduous journey to this country carried with them cooking utensils. Will they have samovars? How will will I find the right cast-iron pots? I cannot part with my rolling pin! I imagine the would-be immigrants saying to themselves as they choose what to bring and what to leave behind.

These cooking utensils provided the means for meeting basic survival needs, yes. But they also represented the transplanting of culture, the underpinnings of new communities, the beginning of a reshaping of the country in which they would land.

Until pizza could become so ubiquitous and readily available that a Korean-American kid from Queens would find it unimaginable that it was ever different.

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2 Comments

Filed under immigration, slow food

2 responses to “how pizza came to queens

  1. carolc

    How odd to find this when I was looking up Dayal Kaur Khalsa. I use this book a lot in the after school programs I have directed when we cook and talk about food origins and “strange new tastes” It is hard for young Americans to imagine that pizza is not theirs. I think there is a re-named version called “How Pizza Came to Our Town” floating around too,who knows why.
    I too grew up in Queens and the art looks a lot like houses in the Bellrose neighborhood. Either this book or “I want a Dog” has a great drawing with the Q44 bus on it, a real fixture of my Junior High Years.
    It was very odd to see the recent date on this post,
    she is not as beloved or even well known an author as I would hope

    • ohnopauloh

      Thank you for posting your response. It may because I now live in the Bay Area, it may be my age, but I find myself thinking a lot about my childhood, growing up in Queens. I’m sure that had much to do with why “How Pizza Came to Queens” was so readily retrievable from my memory.

      I also love “I want a Dog” – doesn’t the protagonist drag around a fake puppy on a leash for a while? Though I don’t believe I ever rode the Q44, I’ll have to look for it in these two books.

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