Off the menu – Neapolitan pizzas made with Finnish tomatoes and a secret ingredient – EDIT



Off the menu – Neapolitan pizzas made with Finnish tomatoes and a secret ingredient

Uzair Amjad’s Off the Menu was on display at XXV Mänttä Art Festival To Err is Human curated by Anna Ruth. The four stories or “smoke breaks” from Off the Menu can be read now in EDIT.

Manly Men

Smoke Break I


On his cigarette break Mikka is smoking frantically, humming Highway to Hell, and observing everything in his surroundings with visible disdain. A group of teenagers runs past him towards the metro station.



I don’t understand why people are always running towards the metro, trying to catch it like it’s the last one. Another is coming in just two minutes.

In my village only one bus comes every hour that takes us to town. Sometimes it’s even late by many minutes and we have to wait for it even longer, but no one fusses over that.

People in the city complain too much if you are late. I’m often late to work, but then I stay back till late, make up for the lost time… do some extra work, drink a couple of company beers… I know how to get even…


A black coworker arrives at the smoking area, picks his spot, lights up a cigarette, and attends a phone call.



(Looking in the direction of his coworker)

He never comes late to work! Always on time 

I don’t hate immigrants

But I don’t love them either…

As a matter of fact… I don’t love my own people…

“My own people…”

My Dad told me “A man has to look after his people…But his family before his people and himself…”

That was the last thing he told me before he left me and my mother.

My Dad was a drunkard and unemployed, I can’t quite remember if he was a drunk before being unemployed or the other way around… He loved to gamble… Lost quite a bit of money there… He was a man of few words. He talked rarely and mostly with his hands. He knew how to discipline the family.

The neighbors called him a wife-beater… But my mother said he was a daring man… A “manly man”

It was early spring, the night he left us… But the air was strangely still, no breeze from the west. It felt oddly warm that night… A night like no other, everything seemed different… Though, as usual, he was drunk… and warily docile…

That night he told me, “only the man who has already committed a crime and repented for it is incapable of that crime.”

Then, he took his bags and left the house…

An hour later, he came back…

The bus was late.

He had another quick drink and called me over again. This time, amongst other things, he told me, “however long and ambiguous life may be… eventually there comes a night, a special moment… when destiny shows you its hand. And that’s when you know what kind of a man you are.”

A family man or a free man…

He said, “no matter what kind of man you are, always remember to get a good insurance plan…”

My mother said he left us because he was a family man. He left us for our own good. He left us to repent for his crimes.

Eight years later, when I joined the army for my 6-month service… there came a night that started quite a lot like the night my father left. The air was still; it was warmer than normal… But Harri, Pekka, Mikko, and I broke protocol as usual… We had a couple of beers and climbed up a tree’s trunks that was right above our morning marching track to take a ‘king shit’. Our monthly tradition!

When I came down with the others, to our amazement… this night… my shit… that fell on the ground from over four meters… had formed a perfect circle on the track! Straight out of a mathematical formula, as if its outline was defined by a compass!

Was this the night?

Was this the sign? Was my shit telling me my future?

The sign had appeared like my Dad said, but I just didn’t know how to interpret it…

The following year went by rapidly. It felt like my destiny was driving me. One thing led to another… I met Hanna. We were crazy together and also for each other… Drinking and singing karaoke all night. 

Her song was David Bowie’s Let’s Dance.


Mikka starts to sing ‘Let’s Dance’ to himself, word for word.


If you say run… I’ll run with you…

And if you say hide… We’ll hide…

Because my love for you…

Would break my heart in two…

My songs were always more solid, with heavy instrumentals.

Highway to hell…

I’m on the highway to hell…

Highway to hell…

I’m on the highway to hell…

I don’t quite remember the lyrics to the song, but I have always liked heavy metal… Manly music! That’s my thing!

Hanna had a stable job as a cashier. I was getting by on a couple of quick VIP loans. I was always going to pay them back as soon as I found a job. Hanna and I had a son, we moved into a bigger apartment, and signed a big fat insurance deal together… 

Expenses got bigger the next year… I was still unemployed, but Hanna was making good money, and I took care of little Kale. That fucking boy was growing up so fast. He had already started mimicking me… He was spanking his mother with his tiny dick out.

Life was still good… Hanna and I were having Karaoke nights at the apartment now.

We couldn’t quite agree on most songs, though… Sometimes Hanna was such a pain in the ass that I had to discipline her… I was a father now, a family man, a manly man. I don’t know why, I don’t remember exactly when, but one night Hanna ran off with some immigrant from her work and took Kale with her… 

And just like that, in one night, from a family man, I became a free man.

I realized then that I had misread the message in my shit. I was always a free man.

And they say freedom is not worth having if there’s no freedom to make mistakes…

A decade of freedom… A decade of mistakes…

My mother, she’s dead…

My father disappeared…

My wife and my son betrayed me…

Good riddance! Whore.

I’m glad I’m alone…

I’m glad I’m forgotten…

I’m glad I’m free…

I’m so free I can put an end to it all tonight…

The insurance will pay for itself, cover the money I owe Hanna… the loan payments will dissolve on their own.

“Get insurance no matter what kind of man you are…”

Your winnings and losses will even out…

I feel like a man reborn… Or a man who was never born…

I am so free I can put an end to it all tonight.

But not tonight…

Tonight’s karaoke night.

Broke Gamblers

Smoke Break II


Mona comes out from the restaurant for a cigarette break. She lights up her cigarette and scrolls through her mobile. 



Not yet… Off by six digits.

Amy is off byyyy… Three digits. Not bad… Getting there.

Our calculations seem to be working just fine… 

When Amy and I started working on our plan to win the lottery, our chances of winning were less than our chances of getting killed by a vending machine.

After two years of meticulously following our plan, our chances of winning now are as good as getting killed in a plane crash. And if all goes as planned, in the next two years, our odds will be on par with the odds of getting struck by lightning.

Anyone can get lucky; you just need to know what path to follow, which moves to make. Every event in life has its own odds of happening. You just need to improve the odds by getting a bunch of good karma.

It’s simple, you do an X amount of good, and a Y amount of good will come your way, eventually.

Amy has it all figured out.

If Amy adds an extra 10 ml on a 30 ml shot that she serves at the bar, she serves almost 3000 extra shots every month. Every free shot is a karma point. And every karma point we collect improves our odds by five numbers.

My part of the job is fairly simple. No precise measurements required, all I need to do is add an extra cheese on every eighth burger we serve at the restaurant. We run out of cheese faster at the restaurant now, but the manager hasn’t taken any notice yet. Besides we are getting great reviews, the greaser the burger the happier the customer, the greater my karma earnings.

Amy and I met playing ‘Dice-verse’ three years ago. I first found her on an island struggling to increase her wood stock to build her cottage. She had been looking for it for over a month’s gameplay. I had an ample supply of wood stock then as I had just spawned for the first time. I helped her out… We have history since. We have hung out for 87 simulated years and have wandered through countless generative landscapes. We turned the little cottage into one of the grandest villas in the game.

We have become quite close during this time. Amy says I am pretty funny and make her laugh a lot. But she always complains that I don’t laugh or smile as much myself. I once told her, “You can’t see… but I am smiling on the inside,” that made her laugh even more.

Amy thinks smiling is infectious, it grows on people, smiling can also bring us good karma.

But we have a saying here in Finland “The one who has happiness, should hide it.”

When we win the lottery, Amy and I will buy an island of our own. And we’ll build our ‘Dice-verse’ villa on it.

Maybe I’ll smile that day when no one else is around.


Mona takes her mobile out of her pocket, holds it in front of her face, and quickly practices a few different versions of her smile.


Amy sent me a bunch of T-shirt’s on my 23rd birthday, they had “I am smiling on the inside” printed on them. I always wear them to work under my uniform.

We thought about meeting finally this year. But recently her manager found out that she’s been giving away free shots… She’s been fired from the bar.

I have been doing extra shifts at the restaurant ever since to keep our karma numbers rolling. I don’t want to miss out on winning this lottery and retire on the meager pension money… It will probably be nonexistent by that time anyways…

Amy says, “Everything happens for a reason. Getting fired is just a consequence of improving your odds. It’s better than getting your house burnt down by lightning.”

Maybe we should get some good insurance at this point?

If you think of it… Playing the lottery and buying insurance is the exact opposite of each other. For a lottery win, you spend money in the hope that an event (with improbable odds) comes to fruition.

Whereas, with insurance, you spend money hoping that an event (with improbable odds) does not come to fruition.

What kind of person plays the lottery and also buys insurance?

Well… Insurance money, in case of lightning burning the house down…

Who’s gonna insure two broke gamblers?


Mona looks at the sky, squinting her eyes at the Sun.


It’s too hot these days… 

I am not wearing the T-shirts Amy gave me anymore…

I don’t like the Sun.

They say all life under the Sun is a dream…

Whose dream is it?

Certainly not mine.

It’s a nightmare if you ask me, a bright nightmare… 

Except that it’s real.


Courageous Cowards

Smoke Break III


Emanuel arrives at the smoking area and reacts disapprovingly at the sight of a coworker, Mikka (from Manly Men), who is also out on a smoke break. Emanuel lights up his cigarette and takes a deep first drag.



This guy’s a fucking drunk… That’s his sixth break already in two hours… 

And fucking bosses everyone around like he owns the fucking place… Comes to work late and then fucking stays late every night and drinks company beer for free… 

Perks of being a Finn… Untouchable… You can do no wrong…

I mean, the man’s butt crack is showing all the fucking time; it’s an open kitchen, for fuck’s sake…

The manager made such a fuss when my pants were loose once…

“Unprofessional behavior” Verbal warnings!

It’s fine if a white butt crack shows at work but a black butt crack, that’s unprofessional…

I’m just really pissed at this fucking Hussein (coworker). Coward!

You walked in on Mikka drinking company beers after working hours! Report him already! Everyone is getting warnings because of him… 

(Imitating Hussein’s High pitched voice)

“Let him be, he’s going through a rough patch.” 

I know… And I don’t hate the guy, he’s alright… Motherfucker loves to sing… Gives me earworms. We know he’s going through a rough time… But who’s not?

Everyone’s got a crack in their ass… 


Butt Racists…

(Takes another deep drag of the cigarette) 

What did my fancy degree get me?

Mr. Emanuel Lagat, Master in Chemical Engineering from the 5th ranked university in the whole damn world… Now flipping burgers… Taking shit from a bunch of high school dropouts… 



Calm down man… You have a family here… Hanna… Our kid… It could have been worse… Being a chef is not bad, eh? At least you have some work now, a permanent contract, finally some job security… 

(Shaking his head in disappointment)

“Limits of an immigrant’s ambition are restricted by the system we step in.”

The white system… The good system…

“Hyvä systeemi”1

And what about the family back home? What about Ma, dada, your sisters, Nana? 

I used to futilely comfort myself by proposing that we are all just migrating through time anyways… Growing apart even when we live in the same house… 

It’s not the same though… Moving abroad is not the same. 

Reducing your loved ones to memories… Memories so precious, so vigorous that they need locking up… 

I still wonder who is courageous and who is a coward. The one who migrates away from their homeland in the face of adversity? Or the one who stays back with their loved ones and faces it fearlessly?

My family sent me away with all their blessings and savings…

I can’t remember anymore if I was happy to leave that day or sad… But I remember their faces… They were all smiling… Nana said, “Go my child, it’s your destiny” 

I asked Nana then… “What is courage, and what is cowardice?” 


Emanuel’s mobile chimes, he checks his notifications and cheers up upon seeing a message from his son Christopher.



Oh, Nana… You’d have been so happy to see this little one… He’s ambidextrous! Just like George Weah! 

You beauty! 

And you know they benched him for the first seven games. 

(Chuckling ironically)

Best player by a mile in his grade, and they didn’t play him until Hanna, his white mother, unleashed her Sisu2 on the trainer’s ass… Nana, you would have loved Hanna.

Christopher ended up as the top scorer by game week 17, having previously missed three months of game time.

I wish more white people would call out racists… 

It’s your burden anyways…

Your guilt… Your crime… 

People in this kitchen are like: Oh, I don’t want to get involved, it’s too political, it’s too messy, what can I do about it.” 

You don’t want to get involved because it’s too convenient for you to not move your ass. 

You don’t want to get into this mess because you are too scared to recognize yourselves in the perpetrators of this mess. 

It’s this cowardice that encourages the crime.


Emanuel puts out his cigarette by pressing it against the outdoor ashtray.


What is courage, and what is cowardice? Nana? 

Facing the aftermath of imperialism at home or racism abroad? 

Can a cowardly person ever become courageous, Nana? 


Emanuel looks at the sky as if searching for something in its vastness.


Nana said: Courage and cowardice are two sides of the same coin. When this coin is flipped in the air, before it lands, courage may appear as cowardice and cowardice as courage.


The destiny of this coin is only partially determined at the time it is tossed. It is finalized at the time it comes to a halt, by the will of God. 


To distinguish courage from cowardice, one must investigate the desire, the will that directs the act.


“Destiny and will are the same thing. And you know this ‘will’ as the God in any man.”


Immortal strangers

Smoke Break IV



I meet many strangers at work.

Most of these strangers don’t speak when I greet them. They don’t talk to anyone at the Restobar… They just pick a spot for themselves and sit there quietly… 

When these strangers come in pairs… Sometimes they are not even making eye contact with each other, let alone speaking… 

They mostly look at the walls before their order arrives… It’s as if they are also strangers to each other… 

But some of these strangers speak to me, when no one else is taking notice… 

I don’t speak the language of the strangers. 

I have sometimes told them politely, almost apologetically, that I don’t speak your language. Perhaps we can talk in English? Or I can call for someone who speaks Finnish? 

But that doesn’t stop them from talking to me…

On occasion, some of these strangers have produced a few sentences in English as well… 

On my first day here at the Restobar, a man in his late 60’s, tall, wide, bald… He arrived early in the morning, just as the Restobar was opening… 

At 9 am sharp, he ordered his starter… 

Two shots of Koskenkorva. 

Whenever I brought his servings or collected his dishes, he appeared to be speaking to himself in Finnish, his head sinking into his jacket a little farther each time, as if he was trying to hide from someone… 

The third time when I brought him a serving of roasted potatoes with truffle mayo, his bald head and unblinking eyes appeared out of his jacket slowly… like a turtle coming out of its shell, sensing security…

His eyes were misty, his face even paler than the faces I am used to seeing around me. Lack of vitamin D, I thought to myself… He appeared to be somewhat drunk, dehydrated perhaps? 

I fetched a word out of the five or six in my language kit for surviving an apocalypse in Finland, “Vesi?”3 I asked. 

He replied in English, “I have killed a man…” 

That startled me, but he wasn’t finished with his thoughts and was still staring at me. Not an angry “eyeballs popping out” kinda stare, just a harmless look of guilt, longing for attention, really. 

Our manager, Mikko, told me the day before that if I wanted to upgrade from a zero-hour contract to a permanent job with health insurance and free meals, I’d have to follow a bunch of rules… Starting with our Restobar’s unoriginal motto, “The customer is always right, we must always listen to the customer and be kind and caring.” 

I couldn’t, of course, leave him hanging in the middle of his thoughts, although he was admitting to having killed another human being. 

He continued, “I have done my time in jail for the crime.” 

“I have repented.” and then, with almost a tinge of hesitance and little sadness in his voice, he said, “I am now incapable of killing another man.” 

If that was supposed to calm my nerves, it didn’t quite do it. 

As I collected the dishes, I mustered a half-smile, broken at the edges… Shaking a little, I nodded to convey my appreciation for the information… This early in the morning on my first day at work… I had to digest that before eating any food… 

And more to digest was coming right up… 

As I turned and walked towards the kitchen, I heard a thudding sound. He had fallen off his stool. I rushed to his aid. He had lost consciousness, and his pulse had dropped significantly…

No one else seemed to panic though, the manager sent me back to work. No one picked him up from the floor, everything resumed as if normal. We were serving food and drinks to the other customers. 

No one at the Restobar was bothered by the presence of an unconscious man on the floor! Right in front of the serving counter! 

Ten minutes later, emergency services arrived, loaded him onto a stretcher, and took him away… 

I asked Taru, our supervisor, “What’s going on? Is he dead?” 

She laughed and said, “He’s a regular; he dies every day; he’s immortal now!” 

On our lunch break, while most permanent workers feasted on the Restobar’s buffet, I and two other zero-hour hires pushed our 2-euro cans of tuna filets and noodle packs into the microwave. 

I told Taru and Mikko about the confession of the old man before he fell. 

Mikko smirked at that, he said, “He’s just a weak person, trying to rid himself of his burden by unloading it on a stranger… There are a few like that. They know that Finnish people won’t accept their secrets; we don’t accept weakness.” 

He then immediately started telling me about the most efficient dishwashing technique. Mikko continued his demonstration, but I was hardly paying attention. 

I felt a sense of pride, a sense of honour that had been ripped off me in the past months. 

I was not just a game design student who couldn’t land a paid internship this summer because I didn’t speak Finnish-unlike most of my classmates.

I was not just a waitress hired on a zero-hour contract, without medical insurance, working irregular hours and earning minimum wage.

I was a person entrusted with a secret… A stranger’s secret… 

The next morning, the old man was there again, 9 am sharp, not all that weak, yeah? 

He comes there every morning on time and passes out around mid-day. He has not talked to me since the first time he shared his secret. But he often gives me that harmless stare, and I reply with a smile and nod. 

Another one of our regular elderly strangers, hair like the ears of a basset hound, always dressed in a suit, left the bar once and came out to smoke when I was also on my cigarette break. He asked for a lighter in Finnish, after realizing that I don’t speak the language, he asked for it in English. 

I gave him the lighter… He asked if he could join me for the cigarette. That was a first. Finns are pretty well known for minding the gap… I welcomed him since he’s one of our regulars and his mannerisms were particularly polite. 

He said he works in Turku, is a musician, and plays the piano at a restaurant there, 4 days a week! He travels to Turku every day for work and then comes back to Helsinki just to spend the night. He sounded annoyed when he further revealed that his sister lives in Turku, and then the annoyance changed into contempt as he added she is a lesbian. 

There was complete silence then for the remaining six drags of the cigarette, they felt like smoking another six full cigarettes… I couldn’t bring myself to smile and nod at him as we parted ways and returned to the hotel… 

I must say I am not proud of a few of the secrets which have been shared with me… But then, a few secrets are not all the secrets… 

A few of the strangers are not all of the strangers.

This elderly stranger left me a 10 Euro tip that day, and it went straight into Mikko’s tip collection pot. All tips get equally distributed amongst the entire staff here. Taru seems to have a way with the customers. She collects the most tips. 

She hates Mikko’s Policy on equal distribution of tips more than anyone. She says, “He becomes a communist when it brings him even a cent, and in reality, he’s a capitalist wolf who would demote even all Finnish workers to a zero-hour contract if he could. He’s just like our government, socialist on paper, neoliberal in practice.” 

It’s been two months since I started here, my shifts have become quite regular. Mikko has promised me a proper working contract by the end of summer. But Taru says he’s just keeping me on the hook. I am not bothered about that; I have saved up enough money to pay my expenses for the next semester. I will be learning Finnish this fall, and hopefully, I’ll get that internship at a game company next year.

(With sadness)

But once I learn Finnish, perhaps the strangers won’t share their secrets with me anymore.



1 Hyvä systeemi = Great system. Ironically for a system that fails to achieve its goal or perform its desired function.

2 Sisu is a Finnish concept described as stoic determination, tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery, resilience, and hardiness and is held by Finns themselves to express their national character. It is generally considered not to have a literal equivalent in English. (Wikipedia)

3 Vesi = Water


Text and images: Uzair Amjad

Editing: Dahlia El Broul & EDIT

Uzair Amjad (b. 1989) is a Pakistani filmmaker and multimedia artist based in Helsinki. He holds an MA in Visual Culture, Curating, and Contemporary Arts from Aalto University, Finland. Amjad’s works borrow greatly from his original training as an image-maker and from oral traditions of storytelling. Photo: Moe Mustafa


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