Uncle’s Pizza: Come for the pizza, stay for the company 大叔披萨:不只美味

By Xie Sijie and Pan Siran

NANJING, China — If one exits the Hopkins-Nanjing Center (HNC), takes a right to walk along Shanghai Road, and makes a right turn at a little alley, they will see a market that looks just like any other Chinese wet market. However, hiding inside the market, with several shabby tables and chairs under a green roof, one finds Uncle’s Pizza — said to be the best pizza shop in Nanjing. 

在南京,上海路蜿蜒延展,与宽宽窄窄的大路小道钉出一个个十字路口。绕着任意一个走一圈,十有八九都会路过这样一个地方:腥得刺鼻,卷闸门收到顶,余光落到里面,黑洞洞的,你小腿交替加速,像要从黏湿湿的鲨鱼肚子里逃出来。就这样,你错过了大叔披萨。

It would be hard to find Uncle’s Pizza if you have never been there. 
Photo credit: Xie Sijie

Unlike most pizza shops in China, which are usually located in bustling shopping districts, Uncle’s Pizza is surrounded by vegetable and fruit stalls. The pizzas all cost below 50 rmb ($7.10), about half the price of a meal at other Chinese pizza shops. Uncle’s Pizza attracts hundreds of customers per day and has become a must-go restaurant in Nanjing, a “网红” (online celebrity) shop — and also a second home for the foreign student community. 

多数中国披萨店开在购物区,装潢高级,吃上一份大概100元,花费不小。大叔披萨则不同。它开在菜市场里,周围是卖水果蔬菜的小摊贩,披萨的价格也算得上“白菜价”——任意一份都不会超过50元。大叔披萨门庭若市,现在又成了来南京必打卡的网红餐馆。外国学生也常常光顾,他们说这是第二个家。

“It’s the best pizza I’ve ever had in Nanjing,” an international student told the Observer. One of the most outstanding features of Uncle’s pizzas is their authenticity. “Surprisingly, Uncle’s Pizza tastes very similar to the pizza in America,” Sam Olson, a master’s student at the HNC, commented. “They use fresher, chewier dough than the average China pizza,” he added. Other customers praised the pizza toppings: “Uncle’s sauce and cheese are the most authentic and their pizza crust is the only crust I will eat in the whole world,” said Dakota Hughes, also a master’s student at the HNC and a loyal Uncle’s Pizza customer. Hughes says he eats there every week. 

大叔披萨的特色之一是地道。“大叔披萨尝起来很像美国的披萨,还挺让人惊喜的!”李志君(Sam Olson),一名中美中心的硕士生说。他继续补充道:“它的面很有嚼劲。”一些常客,比如中美中心的另一名硕士生孔诚煦(Dakota Hughes),则对披萨上的料赞不绝口:“大叔披萨的酱和芝士太地道了!他们家的披萨饼边也是我唯一会吃掉的披萨饼边!”

Cheese sausage pizza, with cheese, sausage, ketchup, ham and a little touch of pineapple.
Photo credit: Pan Siran

The remarkable authenticity of Uncle’s pizzas comes from the experience of the owner, Zhang Hui, who is known as “Uncle” among customers. After working as a chef in German and French restaurants for nearly 20 years, Uncle knows how to make good pizza. “It has to be the best and freshest ingredients,” said Chen Wei, the “auntie” who is co-owner and wife to Uncle. Uncle’s Pizza currently offers around 20 options of pizza, using recipes that are similar to those Uncle used to make at his previous workplaces. Besides the high standard of ingredients, Uncle and Auntie make every effort to make sure their pizzas arrive at the customers in their best form, which is why they don’t provide take-out. Despite long wait times, patrons can still see a long line in front of the shop every day. 

中国人怎么做得出地道的披萨?一切还要从张辉说起。张辉就是“大叔”,这个称呼是顾客给的。过去20年,大叔在南京的德国和法国餐馆当主厨,什么是最好的披萨,他了然于心。“原料一定要最好最新鲜。”大叔的妻子陈伟说道。目前,大叔披萨提供了大约20种口味,每种口味的配方都和过去20年间一样。除了对原料要求高,大叔披萨也追求每一块吃到顾客嘴里的披萨都新鲜酥脆,所以他们至今不提供外卖。吃披萨讲究的是快,但大叔的门前总有人排着长龙。

More importantly, Uncle’s Pizza gives foreigners a taste of home. Homesick expats can always turn to the familiar taste of homemade pizza and a community of fellow foreigners at Uncle’s Pizza. Uncle and Auntie are both from a small county in Anhui province and started working in the restaurant industry at a very young age. They didn’t expect the pizza shop would attract so many international students when they opened their doors. “This is really thanks to Fan Liwei,” (an HNC student from several years ago), Auntie said, “he really helped us a lot.” Fan Liwei promoted the pizza shop after it opened and helped Uncle’s Pizza attain a good reputation among international students. He maintains a close relationship with the couple and recently visited the shop when he stopped by Nanjing, which moved Auntie deeply. “I was almost crying when he was standing there smiling at me while I was making pizza.” 

对外国人来说,大叔披萨带来的不只是舌尖上的快感,还有心灵上的归属感,尽管这种感觉从何而来,人们无从知晓。

大叔夫妇从安徽蒙城来,是同乡,早先少年的时候,就在餐馆工作。起初,他们不被看好,自己也没有把握,但开张不久,就吸引了很多国际学生。阿姨直呼:“没想到!这个真得感谢范立伟(音译)!前几年他就在中美中心念书。他帮了我们很多!”大叔披萨那时开业不久,范立伟给他们做了不少宣传。吃过的人又告诉没吃过的人,口口相传,大叔披萨的口碑在国际学生的圈子里很快就竖起来了。范立伟毕业八、九年了,却还忘不掉大叔披萨。就在记者采访的几天前,他回了南京,故地重游,看了大叔夫妇。阿姨回忆起来说:“当时我正在做披萨。就有那么一个人站在那里,对着我笑。他问我还记得他吗?我立马就认出来了,心里很熟悉的。当时我激动得都要哭了。”

Customers eating at Uncle’s Pizza.
Photo credit: Xie Sijie

The couple is more than the owners of a renowned Nanjing pizza shop — they are often sympathetic listeners to whom foreigners share their own stories. Auntie recalled the story of a handsome boy from Chile who came to the shop every week. The boy attracted the attention of a Chinese girl. In order to confess her crush, the girl asked Uncle what kind of pizza he liked best via WeChat and ordered it for him every time he came. Unfortunately, the boy fell in love with an Australian girl and even introduced the girl to Auntie. Such dramatic love stories unfold all the time at this seemingly shabby restaurant.

大叔披萨除了披萨,多得是故事。一个智利的男孩每周都会吃一次大叔披萨。他金色头发,不爱说话,一人吃一份。之后,有中国女孩向阿姨打听他喜欢的口味,每次等他来,就微信点给他。可最后,智利男孩带着他的澳大利亚女朋友来吃披萨,并且兴冲冲地把她介绍给阿姨。阿姨又是高兴又是叹气。生活虽然并不总是完满,但是这个小小的披萨店却为留学生提拱了抒发情感的场所。

“Auntie” and students from HNC.
Photo credit: Pan Siran

The power of human connection, or renqing wei (人情味), might be the most powerful reason why Uncle’s Pizza is so popular. Uncle himself has no idea why this business runs so smoothly without facing any major obstacles. The salutation “uncle” represents the love and appreciation foreign students feel towards Uncle. Before opening this shop, Auntie and Uncle pulled a trolley with sandwich ingredients and sold made-to-order sandwiches on the Nanjing University campus. However, without a proper license, their business was constantly reported to the police, requiring them to constantly be on the move. Lacking the financial resources to purchase a brick and mortar store, they decided to settle down in the wet market, where rent prices were relatively affordable. Still, they used the value of their house as collateral for a loan to afford the space. Fortunately, their efforts paid off. It is the human connections, along with the best ingredients and cheap prices, that make the pizza shop famously popular and guaranteed to be a Nanjing staple for years to come. If you have a chance to visit Nanjing, there is a pizza shop here waiting for you!

人情味,或许是大叔披萨成功的最重要的原因。大叔的创业,一帆风顺,向他问起成功之道,他也摸不清头脑。在开这家披萨店前,大叔夫妇推着推车在校园里卖三明治。推着车贩卖不是长久之计,但张辉手头紧,把房子抵押了,最终才在菜市场租了店面。也幸亏,付出有了收获。深究起来,大叔披萨成功的配料就是:最好的原料,便宜的价格以及人情味。如果你有机会来南京,你一定要来尝尝这个坐落在菜市场、并不那么起眼的披萨店!叫一声大叔,热腾腾的披萨就会出现在你面前。

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