Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The End

Pork and I have something in common now. It's that neither of us are special anymore. Having incorporated the forbidden brute into my diet so regularly, it's flesh no longer invokes the same criminal feeling it once did. And as a result, nothing I can say about it now will be as interesting as my first Adventures. I guess haraam has become routine.

Things are a bit different now. I've left my beloved Philadelphia for New York, and now I sit in my bed, in a basement apartment on the upper west side, surrounded, in varying proximity, by some of the most awesome prepared pork foods in the world, from every one of its corners. Thus far, I've eaten lots of it, and written about none of it.

Maybe it's because, when I look at it from your perspective, the novelty has worn off. Eating pork is no longer an emotional experience, undoing my conditioning and shocking me with every bite. I'm not "seeing if I like it" anymore. I've tried a lot, decided what's good and bad, and chosen my favorite things. I might snack on them from time to time in the future (right now I'm thinking about the pepper crusted salame in the fridge), but there is no longer a point in my writing about them. I'll start back up when I find something new to obsess over

Thank you for reading.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Teri's BLT

Trying to cover all the staples attributed to an animal as versatile as the pig, I was bound to allow some things to fall through the cracks (Italian sausage and peppers, I'm looking at you too). One old favorite that I can't believe I glossed over is one of the simplest bacon applications; the BLT.

I always wondered what made the BLT a standard on diner menus. It always seemed like the main event, any sort of meat, was missing from it. After all, aren't the B, L, and T all just accompaniment? There was only one way to find out.

My old friend Cory was passing through Philly from Boston on his way to Baltimore and happened to be in town on Joey's birthday. This meant we spent the better part of the evening drinking, and by midnight Joey still hadn't realized that the six pack of Dogfishhead IPAs he downed in the past hour, coupled with several beverages earlier in the evening, would hit him like a ton of bricks as soon as he stood up. Following some temporary paralysis and several paragraphs of incredibly sad bitching, we managed to get Joey back to his apartment, or at least to his front steps from where he painted the sidewalk a barfy yellow.

Of course, this made Cory and I quite hungry, so we decided to stop at a place that I wrote off a few months back after waiting too long for my brunch. Since then, Teri's has changed its game up and become more of a bar than simply a diner. It being a neighborhood spot, it behooved me to give it another chance.

The first thing that caught Cory's eye was the cowboy tots. Being half of a cowboy band, I knew it had to happen. Teri's enhances a plate of tots with bacon, ranch, and cheddar, and lays it in front of you fully expecting you to attack it with zeal. We complied while waiting for our main orders, mine being a BLT; my first BLT.

Though I had nothing to compare it to, there was a near perfect balance to my sandwich. I realized quickly that the textures of the three components fit perfectly with one another. Once your top teeth sink through the bread, they hit the salty half-crunch of the bacon, followed by the light crunch of the lettuce layer, then a juicy hit of tomato, and finally the bottom piece of bread. The bread being toasted just right made that first bite all the better. I suddenly understood the hoopla around this sandwich. In the absence of a main meat event, one is able to appreciate the flavors that usually fade into the background.

I finished it quickly and decided that I'd have to try these from different places until I get one I don't like so that I can identify how anyone, if anyone, can mess up something so simple and so tasty.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Favorite

So, you think I'm some kind of pork crazed maniac? I come home and unlock my door with a key that's on a little pig key chain and come upstairs, take off my shoes and put on my fuzzy pig slippers, open a shrink-wrapped pepperoni and plod down on my couch and turn on the Food Network?

Well, you're wrong! Mostly wrong, anyway.

Nay, completely wrong!

I often hear the assumption that I love pork, and rightfully so. After all, I have dedicated a blog to it. But remember, as I told Sapna Magazine some months ago, I eat pork to provoke a reaction that inspires me to write. I, like most, have comfort food that I come back to time and time again. Ask my friends and they'll tell you flat out, it's pho. But what they don't realize is that pho substitutes for something even more special to me, a food that I grew up with in Thailand and could never satisfactorily find here in America. Only my mom can make this dish just right, just the way I like it. I learned the recipe from her and try my best to do it justice on occasions like tonight. It's been a long day of study and school (which I recently returned to) and all I want is a bowl of kwaey teow.

What I'm talking about is the Thai version of beef noodle soup. Back home, the finest example of this dish is found at street level, from kwaey teow ladies standing over giant bubbling vats of soup. You select the type of noodle you want (sen mee, sen lek, or sen yai from thinnest to thickest), perhaps some meatballs, and vegetable (phak kanaa, which you might know as Chinese broccoli) and the lady puts it all in a little wire mesh ladle and dunks it into the water to cook. Once they're done, she throws them into a bowl, pours in the soup and the meat, and you condiment-ify it with an array of items; chili in vinegar, chili in fish sauce, sugar, pepper, hots, crushed peanuts, cilantro leaves. You then proceed to eat two or three bowls and even finish off your brother's, prompting delight from the lady at how such a skinny little bitch can put away so many noodles. That's how I did it last time I was in Thailand, anyway.

Now the big vat of soup is the thing that I am missing. Churning and boiling day in and day out, this thin stew is packed with flavor. Its dark color is attributed to beef blood, something you can't exactly buy bottles of in the US. I have to make do with a stew pot brought to a boil with beef bones, raw garlic, cilantro root (the essence lies in the root, you fools!), salt, white pepper, and cubed beef. I remember well that Thais prefer textured beef in noodles, cuts that we often consider too sinewy. I use eye round, a cheap cut with a similar mouth feel to what I remember.

I always go with sen mee, the thinnest noodle. For the vegetable component, I use Chinese broccoli tips ('gai lan' tips). I am blessed to have multiple Asian groceries in my vicinity that carry these things. The condiment that takes the most preparation is fried garlic. For the first few months that I was making kwaey teow myself, I couldn't figure out what I was missing. Finally, my mom discovered that I hadn't been frying up sliced garlic in vegetable oil to top my noodles. She didn't say much, but I saw the disappointment in her eyes.

So, the noodles and greens go on the bowl, and in goes the soup and beef. This is followed by the fried garlic, some chili powder and cilantro leaves (merely a garnish). If there are surviving beansprouts in the fridge, they go on too.

Finally, I add amounts of fish sauce and vinegar, not so much with the chilies, to taste. This, pork fans, is my favorite food. There isn't a hint of pork in it, and it makes me so so happy. I am not exaggerating. There was a period of time when I would come home drunk and hungry and three in the morning and venture to go through this entire cooking process just so I could put on an episode of Futurama and chow down on the best thing I have ever eaten. It reminds me of Thailand, it reminds me of my mama, and it's something I make from scratch with my own hands. There are few eating experiences I find more pleasure in.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Dim Sum Garden's Xiaolongbao

I cracked up at Hal's ridiculous mustache right when I walked into the place as if my mutton chops weren't equally as hysterical. He and Orest had lured me to Dim Sum Garden with promises of amazing dumplings, namely xiaolongbao: the soup dumpling, sometimes called Shanghai dumpling. The place is a certifiable hellhole, aptly surrounded by hell; right between every bum's favorite spot to pan handle outside Wawa and a Chinatown bus station where all US language and law ceases to exist, and right around the corner from the Greyhound bus station, the center for riff raff and human garbage in every major city in America.

The lunch crowd consisted not only of Asians, but white 9-5ers, and us, suggesting this place had been discovered time and time again, and I'm not going to try to Columbus this one. Craig Laban apparently wrote about it some time ago which gave it a little push. The dumplings revealed that the critical acclaim came well deserved.

We started out with some sticky rice dumplings, which is not something I usually go for off the dim sum cart. It was nice to have something a little heavy to accompany the dim sum. The shrimp dumplings had definitely come out of a freezer recently and spent too short a time steaming, but this little mishap was quickly forgotten when the Shanghai dumplings came out.

This was my first time with soup dumplings. Hal demonstrated the process;

1) Place the dumpling face up in your spoon.

2) Carefully bite off the very top of the dumpling.

3) Resist the urge to eat it at this point because it will scald the living shit out of your mouth if you go for it too fast.

4) Douse it with dumpling sauce

5) Blow on it awhile.

6) Put bliss into your face.

Yes, these were damn good. The soup tasted like a slightly salty meat broth. We ordered two trays, one filled only with minced pork, and the other with pork and crab meat.

Now, it's a little hard to judge the flavor of a dumpling, because I often consider it to be a textured vessel, the dumpling sauce dominating most of the flavor with its dual salty-tart flavor. The most fun thing about this particular dim sum is the multitude of these textures. First the thin, nearly translucent outer dough, then the slightly thick soup, and finally the minced meatball. It's a bite you can savor for an extended moment. I did several times.

One stereotype held true here, and I was hungry again a couple of hours later. I seriously considered trekking back to the fringe of Chinatown for more.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Honey's Hype

Sabrina's is totally my spot for brunch. It's in my favorite neighborhood, the service is almost always great, and brunch menu is diverse enough to accommodate any degree of sweet or savory I desire. This also means that I have to give myself a little nudge to check out other places. Morning Glory is also in the neighborhood and has great pancakes, but there is a host/server who works there who is just fucking rude. It's beyond me how such a dick remained employed there for so long. It's solely his potential presence at that diner that keeps me away from it. Green Eggs is a pleasant place, but I was never really wowed by a meal I had there, though I plan on giving them another shot soon.

So, let's leave the neighborhood. I found myself venturing to NoLibs yet again with Sunny Ali and our boy Imran. Our destination was Honey's, a brunch spot so popular that it remains packed throughout the week, leaving the beer intensive eateries of the neighborhood empty by comparison. I had been hearing Honey's come up in food conversations for ages. Lot's of 'Oohs' and 'Ahs' from the scores who have been satiated by their fare. What kept me from it, aside from the alleged crowds, was the possibility that a friend of a girl I once pissed off worked there. Having allowed a sufficient latency period by now, I thought I'd go for it.

There wasn't much pork in my breakfast. Just the side of 'handmade honey dean sausage' which looked more like it was made using feet. A dry, crumbly, crusty little slice of overdone sausage to accompany an absolutely mediocre example of buttermilk pancakes made with berries and walnuts. I would have much sooner opted for any kind of Slam at Denny's for half the price.

One of two things happened here. Either I just happened to get one of the few bad breakfasts doled out by this local favorite, or the gears of hype are running on fuel comprised mostly of bullshit. Right now, I'm feeling the latter explanation, seeing that Sunny's chicken fried steak wasn't looking too hot, and the only worthy meal on the table was Imran's bagel and lox, which can't really be attributed to the chef.

Am I wrong? Let me know if you think I should give Honey's another try.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Abbaye's Ancho BBQ Pork Sandwich

I don't know if you went outside yesterday, but it was absolutely beautiful in Philadelphia. The sun was out and felt just far away enough, the air was dry and cool, and the weather in the shade was just perfect. The day's eating needed to be done outside.

While there are a handful of places to eat outside in South Philly, we had exhausted most of them. I was with Sunny Ali and his girlfriend Caitt, who had to go work at Cantina later that afternoon, so that spot was out of the question. Sabrina's and Paesano's I've done and done again, so those were out. We thought it prudent to venture out of our neighborhood to Northern Liberties, a haven for outdoor seating.

I'd only come to the Abbaye previously for their killer beer selection, but this time I was just hungry. Not quite in the mood for alcohol, I was kind of bummed that a place with such a good list of craft beer had no beer of the birch or root variety, not fancy or standard. Of course, I know that I'm on my own with this. I get shit from friends and servers alike when I'm not in the mood for America's drug of choice. I just hope to one day find a spot that doesn't make me feel silly for just wanting a really good soda with my lunch.

Before looking at the menu, I wasn't expecting an adventure for the day, but I saw a sandwich that fit the bill; ancho bbq pork with chorizo corn relish. Ancho is a dried poblano pepper, which carries flavor without much bite. That being coupled with pretty mellow sounding sauce, I was expecting a mild flavored sandwich with a focus on the preparation of the pork.

The pork was visibly braised well and piled high on a bun that could hardly handle the load (this is a trend). I personally prefer as few lumps of pork in a BBQ sandwich as possible in favor of stringy strands, and to that end this sandwich abode. I don't know if that's a standard measure of quality, but I know I like it for its uniqueness to pork. Though in several of its forms the meat of my endeavor can mimic so many others, pulled pork can't be mistaken for anything else if it's done just right. The closest thing, in my experience, is brazed goat meat which is something absolutely distinct.

Flavor-wise, it could have done with a little more punch. Mild flavor is one thing, but this sandwich left me very little to focus on besides its texture and preparation. I attributed the lack of heat to the often benign poblano, but a weak savory component detracted from the idea of it being a BBQ sandwich. Even the chorizo half of the relish wasn't quite salty enough, and the corn sure as hell wouldn't pick up the slack.

All in all, a satisfying sandwich for its heft, but perhaps not a repeat adventure.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Cosmi's Antipasto Salad

This is terrain I love to navigate. Just ask my mom.

As a kid, my brother loved meat and chocolate. I think that's fairly acceptable for a growing lad. I, on the other hand, was a mother's dream because of my obsession with vegetables. When we would return home from school, fresh out of our two hour minivan ride from the other side of Bangkok, Ahmad would request pretty normal fair, while my craving was for any combination of veggies in a strong, vinegar-heavy dressing that I later tweaked to perfection and still make to this day (expect to see Granddad Abdullah's Old Fashioned Vinaigrette in stores soon). At first, I would simply accept whatever combination of vegetables my mom or our maid Sony (yup) would put together for me. Soon, I was making requests. Isolating each vegetable was one fad. I was the only kid on the block who came home and asked for a huge bowl of string beans floating in sour acid.

When I came to America at 13, I discovered two things in the salad realm. The first was the infamous ranch dressing. I don't hate ranch, but I don't trust it. At first, I marveled at this wonder condiment that could complement the flavor of any vegetable. Slowly, I realized that it simply masked any other flavor I combined it with. You could slather that shit on a Snickers bar and it would just taste like ranch dressing. It's a good thing my compassion grew with my devious thoughts or I would totally have been feeding my little cousins dog turds under the guise of mighty ranch.

The other, later discovery was not a supermarket staple. In fact, you shouldn't buy feta cheese from a supermarket unless it's your only option. I have the fortune of living close to the Italian Market, where quality feta and plenty of other Greek salad fixings are available. The Greek quickly became my favorite salad and now I demand that all the ingredients be in place for it to be up to par; kalamata olives, anchovies, hots, the whole nine (I should note here that I'm referring to the American permutation of the Greek, no offense to any Greek readers). Most recently, I discovered a Bulgarian feta that can be described as 'too strong for some'. I highly recommend.

The strong flavors of this salad are what appeal to me the most. I find it pleasing to go through the intense saltiness of the cheese and anchovies, and the tartness of the dressing, the punch of garlic, all in one multi-textured bite. That's why i always looked at the antipasto salad with interest.

This thing is a hell of a salad, and with three kinds of pork in it, I'm shocked that it didn't dawn on me to try it sooner. I got my first antipasto from Cosmi's Deli, an absolute gem of a deli that's been at 8th and Dickinson since the 1930s. Aside from spectacular hoagie selection and killer salads, this place has the best damn prosciutto pepper shooters I've had, but that's talk for a different post.

Over a bed of romaine and tomatoes are piled roasted peppers, black and green olives of somewhat ambiguous quality, croutons, and crumbled Italian tuna fish. The tuna didn't strike me as appetizing at first, but combined with the stars of the salad, it did quite well. Laid over all this is a liberal helping of three kinds of Italian cured meats rolled up into little tubes, looking like three walls of three different log cabins made of different trees: prosciutto, salami, and sopressata. The first thing I appreciated was that this presentation makes it nice and easy to puncture it with your fork to pick it up, combine it with whatever other ingredients, and eat it all in one bite. I tried my best to differentiate between which meat I was eating, but it wasn't long before I was mixing it up and lost track. The prosciutto was familiar, having been my first conscious pork experience ever just over a year ago. Paper thin and just a little sour, it fell in well with its surroundings. The saltiest and most textured of the meats was the salami, with little fatty white deposits that you find in a lot of cured pork. This texture is one that really grossed me out at one time, but has grown on my much as beef tripe did, the reason being that it's all about interesting mouthfeel. The sopressata had a slightly coarser texture than the salami.

The meats being the main event, this was a pretty good salad. It would have been nice to have a few other flavor groups in there traditional to antipasto in Italy. Especially missed were pepperoncini and artichokes. These are things I might consider adding myself next time I pick up an antipasto salad. Another thing I'd venture to handle myself is the dressing. Whoever invented creamy vinaigrette should be shot. One thing I still, after 13 years, don't understand about American food is why dressings have to be goo. Unless it's thousand island or ranch or gorgonzola, it doesn't have to be so thick. I don't blame Cosmi's for catering to the wider taste for packaged dressing, but I definitely won't use it again. Combined with my own concoction, this salad has immense potential. The obsession lives.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Swine Flu and Tofu

I met Pierre and BK during my stint in Japan, 2005. It was our first week there and on one of several field trips required to get our foreign asses registered, my roommate Dave and I ended up across a table from these white boys over ...some kind of food, don't remember what, but you can bet it was Japanese and I was avoiding pork. After some talk we learned that these two kids lived in the room directly above us. This circumstance led to some interesting communication practices later in the semester.

Surely, mayhem ensued during our foursome's adventures in Tokyo and surrounding areas. When it all came to a close that December, Dave and I returned to earth and Pierre and BK remained in the future. Today, they are only occasional visitors to Philly, but when they are here, we always eat well. It's the effect of spending so much time together in one of the world's greatest food countries. But for today, I suggested Chinese; Han Dynasty in Old City, based on their out of this world pork belly, my favorite cut.

When I hopped in the back of Pierre's 2004 Ford Focus ZX3 hatchback (which resembles him as a dog would its owner), I discovered that there were prizes for me stashed in the piles of life items strewn about the car. Firstly, Pierre handed me a Blue Scholars CD, a group he always raves about, but warning me that it might not work (it didn't work, if you're reading this, thanks for nothing you son of a bitch). The next prize I found myself. Due to undeniable appropriateness, it was promptly granted to me. What I received was swine flu. Not quite the all-bark no-bite pandemic that just swept areas of the globe last year, but a plush reflection of it. Pierre works for Giant Microbes, a CT company that makes stuffed animals, if in your mind the 'animal' category includes botulism, HPV, and bad breath. I'm guessing the little cute swine flu cell plushie was a hot item in the wake of the disease. I just love that it's actually pink. What are the odds of that?

After being un-promptly seated by the inept lanky white kid who inexplicably still works at Han Dynasty, we ordered the pork belly, the cumin lamb, hot beef tripe, and something new to me; Ma Po Tofu. It reminded me of Korean jigae in texture, though not so much in flavor. Though there was pork in this dish, it was dissolved, all stewed in with super soft tofu and a striking blend of a few flavors that are unmistakably Sichuan. Speaking of stand-out flavors, I got hit with a Sichuan peppercorn real bad somewhere through the tripe. It numbed my mouth right around when the owner walked over to tell us that we had ordered all his favorite dishes. Whether or not it was a fluke decision, it struck up some pretty entertaining conversation.

We wrapped up our meal with a little grub to spare, which the out of towners kindly left me so that I could crave it late at night, eat it, and spend the next 20 minutes in blissful agony from my mouth being on fire.

Friday, July 16, 2010

O Sandwiches' BBQ Pork Banh Mi

I just ate the first half of this, thankfully without the tangy zip of Miracle Whip. O Sandwiches brings a level of finesse to banh mi that you don't always find in a lot of South Philly sandwich joints, particularly when it comes to the preparation of the meat. I've often been turned off when my teeth hit a chicken knuckle, or something inexplicable in the middle of my sandwich. It leads me to expect one in each subsequent bite and I slow down, chewing ever so slowly and using the various components of my mouth to sift through their present contents. This takes a fair amount of concentration, so whoever I'm with begins to notice that, though I may be staring intently and slowly moving my jaw in an interested fashion, I'm not actually listening.

That's never a problem at O Sandwiches, where the meat is finely chopped and packed in neatly underneath a liberal serving of carrot and radish pickles, cilantro and hot green peppers that I always forget to tell them to hold. I like hot food, I'm not a bitch, but those little bastards always do a number on my esophagus. You can judge my age by the pile of Tums wrapper bits on my desk, a collection that grows with my fits of pained desperation.

I'll leave you with that as I eat the rest of this thing.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Try harder

So where the hell have I been for the past month? The short answer is, working on this

My band, Sunny Ali & the Kid, just independently dropped our first EP. It's available on our website sunnyaliandthekid.com

Below this item on my list of excuses are an increase in other work, preparation for my brother's wedding, a new found affinity for the ukulele and a whole season of Big Love that I completely missed.

I know I messed up. All I can promise is that I'll

Try harder.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Korean BBQ Pork Belly at Bobo's

Bobo's was at the top of my list before I ever went there. If there's one international pork adventure I wish I'd snatched up when I had the chance, it's the BBQ pork belly I missed out on in Seoul in 2005. I've been to a handful of Korean BBQ places in the US, including a higher end New York joint, and nothing has come close to what I had at Bobo's, an unassuming restaurant that has lived right across the street from my favorite Brazilian joint for quite some time, unbeknownst to me. I will have to make it out the Northeast twice as frequently since discovering it.

The Korean obsession with side dishes is right up my alley, especially when one of them is soju. Ben, our Korean boy, made sure the bottles of sweet rice vodka made it to our table before the food. Shortly after our first shot, tiny plates bearing cocktails of vegetables, pickles, and sauces began arriving. As we were sampling each little miracle, the main event arrived; a plate piled high with pork belly. A small drawback was that we were working with frozen meat here. The proprietor apologized for the inconvenience, but it turned to to be a non issue. She did the bulk of the grilling for us, and we tossed our condiments into the heat pit.

On my first lettuce bomb, I piled a slice of pork belly, an impossibly thin slice of pickled daikon, some grilled kimchi, a clove of garlic also from the grill, and another slice of pork belly for good measure, topped with a dab of sesame oil and sweet miso sauce. I balled it up and devoured it in one bite. As usual, I made it too big and had to sit there with my gaze fixed on nothing, concentrating hard to break down the food ball. In that 30 seconds or so, every flavor makes itself apparent, dances with the others, and slowly becomes lost in the euphoric feeling immediately following victory over the challenge of chewing one of these guys. It is one of the most satisfying flavor combinations I've ever had, whether pork is in the mix or not.

This pork belly was a little more rubbery than I prefer in barbecue, but the texture did its job of the being the meat in the situation. The other elements are soft or slightly crunchy, and make for perfect layers encasing the meat. Ben advised me that each lettuce bomb should comprise a different combination of side dishes, making each one a unique set of flavors. Turns out the simple combos each have a charm of their own. My personal simple favorite was pork belly, grilled kimchi, and sesame oil.

I was surprised as to how empty and quiet Bobo's was on this warm weeknight, and I'd love to see their business bumping a little more, so I'm giving my highest recommendation of 5 pig heads.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Hot Dry Sausage from Claudio

I cheated, once. It was Christmas of 2008, and I was spending it in a more Christian way than ever before; with a family of Catholics. Not that there was anything particularly Catholic about these Catholics. It was Christmas with the Hardys.

Joe Hardy is my old friend and, as some tabloids have suggested, my favorite. When we first met, I learned that he didn't like to be called anything other than 'Joe' by his friends and 'Joseph' by his elders, so naturally, I've called him 'Joey' for the past eight years.

Joey invited me to spend Christmas eve with his family, as I was to be trekking to my aunt's nearby the following day. My family has never been too big on Christmas, aside from it being an occasion for us to gather and irritate each other. Perhaps all other families in the world, including the Hardys, spent Christmas the same way. But there was a far more festive spirit in the air, and their varying gradations of British accents brought a sense of correctness to to the setting.

At the time, I lived right in Philadelphia's Italian Market. As a token of my regard for the Hardys and the ever-so-slight mutual loathing underlying the love that has kept me and Joey friends for so long, I decided to bring a token of my gratitude in the form of some hot dry sausage from Claudio. I felt it to be a fitting gift in that I would be unable to eat it, and so would have to ask them how it tasted, to which they would, bound by courtesy, tell me it was delicious. I would then spend my life obliviously believing that this tube of sodiumized animal meat tasted great, never knowing the true answer. This was my aim, but I thwarted it myself after a couple of drinks on that first night. In front of me sat a plate piled with slices of the links, and around me sat the Hardys, talking about most un-British things in their accents.

I was contemplating eating on of those little discs, hard. It went on for about ten minutes. I stared at it, sipping my drink, bending my eyebrows like hermetic kung fu master sizing up his newest pupil. Finally, I leaned forward and with an inward "Fuck it", I grabbed one and threw it into my mouth. This was immediately followed by my eyes darting around to make sure no one just notice the Muslim eating pork. It was, indeed the perfect crime, unless of course god was watching.

I forgot about this incident until just recently, when I was in Claudio buying olives and cheese. Along with a wedge of brie and some olives stuffed with almonds, mini jalapenos, gorgonzola, and anchovies (yes), I got a turd-looking sausage that I suddenly realized I'd purchased before.

Suddenly, there was an adventure more important than all the ones that came after it. The real first time I willingly ate pork; it had to be revisited. Arriving at home, I fixed myself a plate of cheese, olives, and...I couldn't do it. Not yet. I had to be in the perfect state of mind to recall everything I felt at the time. This was to be a jolt, and I had to prime myself for it. A day passed, then another, until the olives were gone and there was just a bit of cheese left. Finally, I was ready, and I fixed the originally intended plate, the only substitution mini dill pickles instead of olives. I threw a slice of sausage into my mouth.

Even though I'd cut off most of the rind, this thing was damn chewy, almost unpleasantly so. I wondered if this was the stuff meant to be cooked before eating. Alas, it was the same sausage I had had before. While the hot and savory curing was quite tasty, it didn't attempt to cover up the smoky taste, surprisingly similar to what I've tasted in some bacon. The flavor was disproportionately strong for the size of slice that I had eaten, and at first it was a shock to my taste buds. It only reminded me that the first time I had eaten this stuff, I was so focused on my stealth that I barely tasted it. I worked that slice over and went around the plate eating a slice of cheese and a little pickle. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed by the flavors. It was a bit too much saltiness happening at once, particularly with an entirely new type of saltiness thrown into the mix. As I ate more sausage slices, I began to get used to the flavor. The texture, on the other hand, gave my jaw a proper work out, and by the time I was done it felt like I chewed a whole pack of Bubblicious for four hours.

Sausage is a good snack along with other cheese shop staples, but I'm glad it wasn't my first coherent adventure. Prosciutto eased me into pork with its relative lack of offensive qualities. I might venture to try sausage from different stores, but again, eating pork at home in my realm of comfort isn't something I'm inclined to do any time soon.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Peter Luger's Thick Cut Bacon

Now, that's more like it. Every standard bacon experience has been lacking something, a certain meatiness that you just don't get with ultra thin slices. I've learned that crispy bacon doesn't do it for me, and being the type for soggy, floppy bacon has left me famously disappointed. Bacon that I truly enjoyed was literally a birthday gift.

My mom asked me where in New York I wanted to eat for my birthday, and my answer spilled out instantly. Peter Luger is arguably the best steak house in the city, and I'd only heard tales of their butter like steak from my brother, far more of a meat connoisseur than myself. My mom obliged her baby boy and just a couple of days before my 26th, I was at a table with her, my meat-loving brother, my very-soon-to-be sister-in-law, and my oldest-friend Jes-hyphen-hyphen. One of three appetizers ordered had to be the bacon.

There's some dispute as to where the bacon they use at Peter Luger comes from. There is unanimous agreement, however, regarding what makes it amazing. It's the broiler. You can try it a million times, but simple fried bacon just won't have the same result. While it was the tenderness of smoked pork belly done BBQ style that originally endeared me to this cut, this thick cut bacon was the best example of anything I've had that reaches that rubbery consistency in preparation. There are few foods more fun to bite into. As this stuff gets cooked, the contrast between the fatty and meaty stripes begins to blur. They begin to distinguish themselves past your teach, when the fat begins to disintegrate quicker. It's overall a much meatier eat, sparing the slight level of greasiness.

And then there was the steak...but this is a pork blog. You didn't think I would go into it, did you?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Kraftwork's Bacon Krispy Treat

I prejudge bacon desserts. Ones I've come across always seem to pander to the eyes and not to the tongue, relying more on the novelty of the ingredient than the ingenuity of the combination. You haven't seen much about desserts on Adventures in Pork for this very reason. I want to taste pork and not merely be told that it is present in my food. I finally went to the right place.

Kraftwork just opened up less than a week ago, and Brian, being the gastropub aficionado he claims so loudly to be, was there for a beer in the blink of an eye. Later that very day, I got a message from my friend Sean (who's in a real nasty band called the Spooks), who works at Kraftwork, informing me that they do a bacon rice krispy treat. My curiosity was piqued. A couple of days later Brian, Justin and I headed up Girard Avenue.

Following a satisfying chicken sandwich, we were presented with the dessert in question. It appeared simple like a rice krispy treat should, its only flare a little chocolate garnish that upon closer inspection concealed little bits of bacon (not bacon bits, mind you). At this time, I got a phone call from my mom. Being a courteous co-diner, I remained seated at the bar as my mom and I took turns raising the decibel level of our conversation, a banal one regarding cell phone plans, in a muddle of Urdu and English. When I got off the phone, Brian and Justin were talking to the chef, who had just emerged from the kitchen.

I joined the conversation and naturally, things turned to pork. The chef described the make up of the treat I was about to bite into. He kept things simple; the same store bought marshmallows you'd get in the supermarket acted as an adhesive, but something quite different composed the body of this square. Not a single rice puff in there, just a lot of pork rinds.

Biting into it revealed both the saltiness and the sweetness I would have expected, but they complemented each other cleanly, like all rice krispy treats could do with a dose of breakfast meat. While you'd think that the fluffiness of marshmallow and the slight crispiness bacon would clash unpleasantly during the chewing process, it was as gooey as anything fresh out of your grandma's oven and didn't skimp on the bacon (wow, that sounds gross). Though pleasing, it required a self preparedness to dive into. I finished it in the standard four bite sequence, then took over a week to write about it. I know.

The bacon krispy treat opened me up to the prospect of desserts successfully infused with bacon. Not long after my meal at Kraftwork, my dear friend Jes read my mind and gave me a bag of assorted bacon chocolates for my birthday. This ain't over.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Cantina Los Caballitos' Roast Pork Empanadas

The question before this last little adventure was; is there something Mexican and pork-xican that will make me love it more than I love Puebla's el pastor? Not bloody likely. But I'll be damned if I won't give it a chance.

As I've long maintained, Mexican is not my favorite style of food, pork or not. What most concerned me about the early Mexican pork dishes I tried was the lack of seasoning to cover up that porky essence that stops me mid-bite on occasion. The plantains packed into the roast pork burrito I had at Pico de Gallo a little while back didn't do enough to mask this flavor, in hindsight.

Believe me, I've considered what an asshole I am for seeking out foods that cover up the taste of roast pork. I know that by doing so, I'm shadowing the reality of the roast pork I consume, and I might as well not pursue such dishes if they keep making me fell sick. But despite my desire to make the Adventures easy on myself in this way, forging forward is the only choice. I can't very well avoid a whole category. This blog is about eating pork from the perspective of a Muslim, and this is how this particular Muslim chooses to deal with roast pork...I know, I know, if that last sentence made you feel angry/confused/sad/fearful, please, just write your thoughts in the comments section.

I was just getting back into town from yet another multi-hour stint in my less-than-tidy car, and I hit up Sunny Ali, who happened to be sitting outside Cantina Los Caballitos about to order some grub. As I arrived to join him, the sun was suddenly obscured by half-menacing clouds. The wind started to pick up as I approached the table as if we were about to have a shootout, or at least words leading to one. Whatever the weather suggested fizzled out as I sat down across from him and heartily greeted my partner in crime. Just then, Sunny's girlfriend Cait, a waitress at this Cantina, brought us a couple of beers. Perfect way to end a shitty drive on the NJ turnpike.

Initially, I didn't feel like experimenting. I just wanted something familiar that would go down easy, the quesadillas I ordered being almost too deep in that category. The pork empanadas were actually Sunny's choice, but the configuration of our plates demanded that we make a partial trade. The picture would have been perfect if that bastard hadn't gotten salsa all in the sour cream.

Because I'm used to empanadas being either the frozen snack or of the corner store variety (which I am suspicious might be the same thing), having a hand crafted one with the shell cooked just right was a treat. The filling was decent at best, not much by way of standout seasoning. The unwelcoming essence of roast pork was at about 40%, especially with a dallop of sour cream. The pork was a little stringier than normal, either the cooking method or the pig being at fault. Overall, the bite match my mood: a little tired and craving a change.

I like both Cantina's in Philly for their atmosphere and layout, not to mention the Tecate and Tequila drink special that pleasantly ruined a few summer days last year, but there food has always left something to be desired. There's something un-Mexican about preparations that I can't quite put my finger on. In a town that has a serious Mexican diaspora and plenty of eateries serving its need for authentic food from home, it seems unnecessary to travel to a hip block for dishes that come off as a very slight attempt to differentiate. Don't be surprised if you see me chilling at Cantina on a hot summer day drinking a Pacifico, but if I ever feel the hankering for something south of the border, you'll find me on 9th St.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Bukowski's Pork Belly Sliders

This past week was one that illustrates the irregularity in life. Now more than ever, I feel like a part of the growing mass comprised of those who make things work despite the fact that every facilitating mechanism in our civilization is broken.

I left for Massachusetts on a Friday, picking up my brother and his fiancee on the way. My father was throwing them an engagement party, of course one separate from the one my mother threw last summer. Neither was invited to the other's.

Following the weekend party, I planned on staying on for a couple of days so that I could see my doctor one last time. You see, I'm turning 26 next month, and that's the age at which our system of government has decided I no longer need health insurance. I'm lucky I got as much as I did. Thankfully, I'm able to work from anywhere and didn't miss too many steps as a result.

While I was at it, I figured I'd see the dentist. Or rather, a dentist. I didn't know who this person was, and her friendliness seemed genuine until she started tacking on recommendations for dental work that would end up costing me over a thousand dollars over my insurance limit. If you're not getting a visual of this situation, picture an insurance company and a crooked dentist fucking my ears from either side until money falls out of my ass.

My closing mission in the state of Massachusetts was to bring the Kominas back to Philadelphia with me to play a couple of shows with my band Sunny Ali & the Kid. As it went, we ended up meeting at a place I'd been before to meet a guy I've known for a long time. Cory, bass player for Boston metal band Black Thai, sat across from me in Bukowski in Cambride and told me what I'd missed.

The Boston Bacon and Beer Festival happened last Saturday, and by missing it I hurt myself and anyone who enjoys my pork musings. Without regard for my feelings, Cory continued to relate tales of the delicious experiments he'd witnessed and tasted. I sought to redeem myself quickly, and staring at Bukowski's menu momentarily revealed an immediate pork option.

Both Cory and I ordered the pork belly sliders. I should note here that technically, these weren't sliders. A slider is not the same thing as a miniature burger. Rather than having me paraphrase, hear it from a guy who really cares and knows.

These little bastards looked pretty damn good next to my Maker's Mark. Piled with homemade red cabbage cole slaw, the layering of textures in these tiny sandwiches was very close to perfect. Though the pork belly felt a little overcooked at first bite, the resulting slight rubberiness fit just right between the chewiness of the mini brioche bun and the crunch of the slaw.

Because pork belly is uncured, some chef's can get a little seasoning crazy and over spice it rather than allowing its natural flavors shine. The danger of over salting pork belly was expertly avoided at Bukowski's, each sandwich a picture of balance. They went down fast, as did the bourbon depicted, as well as the one that followed it.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Interview with SAPNA Magazine

A couple weeks back, I was interviewed by a writer from SAPNA Magazine, a web based publication targeting South Asian American women.

Here's the interview

Hoping for some feedback from these lovely ladies.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bebe's Pulled Pork Sandwich

How could I have traversed the porcine path for this long and not have had a pulled pork? Well, for one thing, this food has one of the least appetizing names a sandwich could have. While it may still be funny to me, many stand by the pulled pork sandwich as the finest example of American barbecue.

During my non-pork life, there were those who repeatedly spoke of pork's deliciousness to me, suddenly realized that I don't eat pork, then pitied me greatly, apologizing to me for my own discipline causing me to lose out. Only one always got away with it without a lecture from me. Tony is an old friend of mine, and by that I mean that he's my elder brother's boy from college and both of them are old as hell compared to my youthful, agile self. I've known Tone since I was 13, and since then he has, in equal parts, trained me in the ways of life and busted my balls, often for not eating his favorite meat. While I'm sure he misses the days when he could elaborate with great vigor on the magical flavors we were both sure I'd never experience, he has been an encouraging figure for my Adventures in Pork.

Toni swears by the pulled pork, claiming it to be one of the most important experiences for a first timer like myself. When Bebe's opened up right between our two homes on 9th Street last year, Tony promised that this was one sandwich that did its genre justice. In the midst of all the recommendations I got after starting AIP, I overlooked the pulled pork from Bebe's...no longer.

I called in my order to an always exuberant Mark, the nicest shop owner in the Italian Market, perhaps due to his palpable southern-ness. Upon entering the tiny store, I was greeted with a "You're here for pork!" from the girl at the register. Happy to have my mind read, I acknowledged her claim and watched her assemble my order and fill my ice tea before settling up and heading back to my car. This would be an eat-while-you-work situation.

In my take out container lay a mound of deeply soaked, finely diced (or pulled, I suppose) pork shoulder cut. The pile dwarfed the little burger bun occupying the next compartment. The orange-brown sauce on the pork I was used to and fond of, the same stuff found on Mark's equally amazing chicken sandwich. In fact, the sauce made this sandwich nearly indistinguishable from the chicken sandwich. The texture of the meat was slightly less dry and less stringy, but overall the experience matched up pretty clean. I wasn't blown away by the sandwich because, I'd tried its chicken counterpart before.

I didn't think about it much, the haram aspect. I've gotten to a point at which I don't get turned off by pork merely at the thought of what I'm eating. It's only when there is a very apparent porky smell or taste, as there is in roast pork, that I can't stomach it. I've worn down my psychological aversion to the point that it is either dead or dormant. I did note that at Sabrina's the other day, I ordered ribs expecting pork and was surprised to find myself relieved that it turned out to be beef. I guess I was glad I wasn't going to have to test my dinner out to see if it would make me feel gross or not.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

We All Have Our Moment of Truth

Six years ago, I was sitting on the balcony of a four person apartment in a Temple University dorm called 'Towers', puffing away with my friend Sambones, as we often did. The front door opened and Anand was home. Anand and I were partners in hip hop, the two greatest MCs in the world (in our bragodocious 19 year old minds, anyway) and I knew just how to push his button on this unseasonably warm day that happened to be April 1st, 2004. He walked out to the balcony and plodded down on a milk crate.

"Yo, Guru died today, man."

"What!? ... damn man...How did it happend?" (distraught)

"Car accident this morning. Yeah, and it happened today of all days" (Sambones, shhhh, you'll give it away)

"Yeah...(sarcastically) 'April Fools'" (shakes head)


"BahahahahahahahahahHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!! April fool's, dude! Hahahahahahahahaha!"

Anand, who was a bitter son of a bitch back then, popped his cigarette in his mouth, stood up, grabbed the crate he was sitting on with both hands and flung it at my head at a range of about three feet. Being an alert and agile specimen of masculinity that I am, I quickly batted the crate away. I don't remember how we resolved it, but I'm surprised one of us didn't end up going over that balcony railing. Maybe it was because we both knew within a matter of seconds that we'd look back and laugh on this one day.

As fond as that memory is to me, it strikes a sad reminiscence today, as Guru, influential MC and producer, half of Gang Starr and just about all of Jazzmatazz, has passed away. Cancer is a bitch.

Though he wan't known nearly as much for being a producer, he made some sick loops. Check out this Bahamadia track he made the beat for.

Peace Guru. You certainly lived up to your name.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

PORK RINDS: A New Column

I just posted my first piece for a column I'm doing for the Tawqwacore Webzine. It's called PORK RINDS.

I decided to start this little side project to prevent my non-food related ruminations from bleeding into Adventures in Pork. Despite this, I'm not promising that Adventures in Pork will be limited to just food posts. PORK RINDS is just for when I go way off food topics.

The first post, entitled For Whom the Bell Tolls, just went up. It's my reaction to a news story I came across in my morning rummagings through the world's information sources.

I've got lots more ideas too. Stay tuned here, follow me on twitter @PorkAdventurer

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Peublas' Tacos Al Pastor

I never ignore legal advice. My attorneys told me ages ago to try the Al Pastor from Pueblas. Yesterday, in an attempt to feed my newly found chorizo taco addiction, I made a call to my new favorite taco joint only to find out that they were out of the delicious, spicy sausage dish that made me fall in love. In an instant I saw this as the opportunity to fulfill an earlier mission and ordered the Al Pastor. I jumped in the whip and cruised up there with anticipation.

The preparation of Al Pastor has an interesting history. Cooking meat on a rotating spit is not originally a Mexican method. Lebanese immigrants brought the idea, adapted from the Turkish doner kabab, in the early 20th century. Upon its integration into Mexican cuisine, what was once lamb became pork. The name 'Al Pastor', or 'shepherd style' stuck despite the fundamental change in meats. The result is tacos (or little kabab wraps) filled with pork sliced straight from the rotating spit and topped with onions, cilantro, and pineapple, presented with two kinds of salsa, sliced cucumbers, and hot pickled onions and peppers.

Right off the bat, the meat looked interesting. The pinkness in the center of each slice and the reddish roasted exterior were unmistakable signs of pork, but the way it had been grilled and sliced could have allowed it to pass for beef. Biting into it revealed a flavor far less cured than the chorizo, but with a more engaging meat flavor than any cured sausage could accomplish. Perhaps it was due to the texture, but it reminded me more of doner kabab than pork. A healthy dose of salsa verde gave the tacos a subtle heat, and the pineapple drove the whole concept home. Whoever decided to add a little fruit surprise to this meat dish is a damn genius, and I tip my sombrero to him or her.

Tacos Al Pastor are definitely on my list. The good list, not the bad one.

"Dude, is Pueblas paying you or some shit?!"

No, honest. I pay for my tacos just like everybody else. In fact, I don't think the waitress I'm slowly falling in love with even realizes that I'm writing about the tacos she keeps giving me. The language barrier would cause an attempted explanation of my blog to end in an awkwardly polite exchange of laughter as I back out the door and she backs into the kitchen.

As Catwoman once said, let's keep the mystery.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Repeat Offender

I can't stop.

I treat my obsessions well, fueling them into eternity. My favorite thing to eat as a kid was Thai beef noodle soup (kuay teow) and today it remains a biweekly item on the menu at Abdullah's. Through the ages, there have been plenty of fleeting favorites, but very few of them survive the test of repetition. When I started the Adventures, I was positive that no pork dish could ever make it to my hall of comfort foods, but alas, doubt has been cast.

I returned to Pueblas today for my fourth order of chorizo tacos in two weeks. On my first trip there, I couldn't recall that the al pastor had come highly recommended, so I went with a familiarity. I'd had chorizo tacos before, but I was completely unprepared for what I was about to have.

Then again, I've already told this story. It's the subsequent visits that are a new experience. Yes, my friends, I returned there eagerly only a few days later seeking the exact same experience. Days later when my friends from out of town were visiting, guess where I took them...guess what I ordered.

I can't seem to stop. Today, I went out of my way to pick up a late lunch of chorizo tacos from Pueblas yet again and I decided that it was now a serious problem, one that I must disclose.

And so, I confess. I love a pork dish. I'm not sure if it will become a high priority standby, but I feel I've made a breakthrough in that I can consume pork without thinking about it too much. I knew that I could always stomach cured sausage because the indefinable porky essence is obscured.

As summer approaches, I see myself returning to Pueblas plenty for this authentic hot weather food. My one issue is that they don't always stock Mexican Coke.

By the way, if you're eating at Pueblas, be sure to check out Mr. Rodeo, official outfitters of Sunny Ali & the Kid, just a couple of doors down.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Don't Mess with

Image by Sunny Ali

Enough with the pork already. I had a non food-related thought.

I spent the last week thrashing around with four Pakistanis. Now, these guys aren't your everyday desi dudes. The one thing about myself, my bandmate Sunny Ali, and the guys from the Kominas, is that we're all musicians and music buffs. This one affinity somehow altered each of our paths, to the chagrin of most of our parents, whose respective upbringings were more concerned with the lower rungs of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Bringing their kids to the US meant opening up opportunities our parents never had, including the opportunity to explore our artistic sides and even value them over our education.

What a nightmare! Poor bastard born into a country like Pakistan, busts ass his entire life and makes it to America to start a family, only to see his son with bleached hair and a sweatshirt that constantly smells like weed. No aspirations, no drive, just music music music all the time. If you wanted him to be like you, you should've stayed in Pakistan, daddy-o. The world sees America as a land of opportunity, but you have to actually live here to see all its dimensions.

But not all desi parents are so unfortunate. Raising your kids with a strict regimen of salan-roti, Islamic Sunday school, and constant exposure to your 'communiTy' might also yield a perfect Pakistani American kid; one who focuses on his studies, doesn't drink, doesn't have hobbies, and remains a virgin living at home until he finishes med school or law school or his masters in engineering and marries his second cousin. It's this conception of the dream that I've been alienated from.

I identify as a Pakistani to some extent, but understand that to most Pakistanis, I'm the worst kind. My actions signal that of a self-hating Pakistani, rejecting whole sections of my culture, assimilating without looking back, casting away my heritage for the sake of ease. Ever since I started eating pork and being public about it, I doused the last ember of my ethnicity and have since descended into a gray area of the space between immigrant and second generation.

The scary thing for the 'communiTy' is that I'm not alone. There are plenty more first generation American Muslim kids who stared opportunity in the eye and banged its head like a drum. The cue ethnic identity takes from America is individual expression, and there's no standard for how much of your heritage you choose to keep. Who will define our minority in the next generation? I just hope it's not a bunch of nerds.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

"ur a prick"

I recently saw this comment, one of only two, on the online version of my article for the Philly Weekly.

2. Anonymous said... on Mar 24, 2010 at 07:13AM

“ur a prick, what a backward caveman, u kow why pork is forbidden to u muslims, because its scientifically proven to bee full of parasite and diseases, enjoy, n another thing what kind of paki plays country, n awful country 2, sunny ali & the kid, aload of shit. dnt come 2 the uk, ull ruin it for all the cool pakis here, n they wont be happy”

I knew that there would be a first time I got called a prick for doing this, but I never guessed it would be in such an inarticulate manner. I was hoping for someone with some ideological insight and a chip on their shoulder, but instead I got Anonymous, a guy (or girl) who apparently subscribes to a number of academic journals that I don't receive. With scientific fact on his side, Anonymous has earned the right to call me "backward caveman" which, incidentally, is my favorite sexual position.

One of my favorite things about this comment, which I clearly cherish, is that Anonymous gives himself away as a non-Muslim when he uses the phrase "u muslims". I can at least appreciate that such conviction is coming from a spectator. I guess Islam has a lot of great fans, even if the team hasn't won a championship in centuries.

And finally, someone connected my band to my blog! If you don't know yet, yes I'm in a band with another Pakistani guy and we both where cowboy gear while we belt out infectious yet simple punk-country riffs for audiences of all ages. We're called Sunny Ali & the Kid, as noted by anonymous (thanks dude :). I agree that we're "aload of shit" but calling our music "awful country" is just not fair. Have you heard what pop country sounds like today? That's awful. Besides, why would I trust a British guy's taste in an American artform? You don't see me over there in the UK telling your food how to suck and your women how to be ugly.

Jokes aside, I respect Anonymous' opinion as I would anyone else's. I just ask that if you're going to insult me, please do me the courtesy of making it funny. I promise to return the favor.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Denny's Lumberjack Slam

Bands end up at Denny's. It's not always favorable, but it is inevitable. Since my high school days of photocopying fliers in the library, bumming rides to Guitar Center, and coming up with awfully clever song titles, nights have ended at the only 24 hour spot that welcomes this type of riff raff.

Sunny Ali and myself (the Kid) found ourselves in a Denny's in Alexandria VA at 3am with the Kominas and Omar Waqar of Sarmust. We were waiting for a call from punk legend Jello Biafra that would later lead us to a late night meeting in the lobby of the Silver Spring Crown Plaza where he questioned and advised us on the burgeoning scene dubbed Taqwacore at its inception.

But anyhow, back to the breakfast. I was never able to get a Grand Slam before and would always end up watching one from behind my short stack across the table. In an attempt to bridge my former favorite with this new Adventure, I got the Lumberjack Slam; a short stack, hashbrowns, two eggs, bacon, little sausages, a hunk of ham and some toast. The eggs and toast ended up being a charitable donation to Basim Usmani. The porcine components, I kept for myself...and enjoyed thoroughly.

Maybe it was my road nourished appetite, but I thoroughly enjoyed a full strip of bacon for the first time. Through this Adventure, I learned this about myself: I don't like it crispy! The greasy strips were positively floppy and for the first time it was perfect, although it wasn't the highlight. It finally made sense to me pork is such a major part of the American breakfast. Beef and chicken are hardly agreeable morning meats, but ham fits in perfectly somehow. The slightly rubbery texture contrasts with the softness of hashbrowns and eggs. Add in the rest of the pork elements and what you have before you is an amusement park of a meal. The ferris wheel is the glass of orange juice to my left.

Regarding the sausage: I'd like to conduct a blind taste test of beef and pork breakfast sausages. I was unable to identify any differences. This was a first. I was happy to note this parallel before thinking again and wondering if I've been buying the wrong Brown and Serve all these years.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lilly's 'That Bacon One'

Though I might not share it, I understand the affinity for bacon. I understand what it means to add it to anything, and I understand why people think it's delicious. I don't, however, understand what makes it an obsession. What allows bacon to become the centerpiece of so many experimental dishes?

As I continue the Adventures, I find less and less evidence of any actual substance to America's love affair with bacon. I'm leaning more toward believing that it's almost a rite of passage. What kind of American doesn't love bacon? Or football? Or the soggy smell of badly made light beer? Being an American who did most of his growing up outside the US, these are all things that I was more or less required to get used to in order to downplay my FOB status (look it up if you don't know).

It reminds me of something the Japanese swear is delicious but is notably not: nattō. This stuff looks and tastes like baked beans suspended in camel snot, and every Japanese person you meet swears it's delicious. If you ask me, it's the only Japanese food that will never blow up. Sushi may have gone Hollywood, but nattō will be Japanese and Japanese only forever.

Not that I'm saying bacon tastes like crap. It's good, just not great, and because I was never indoctrinated, that's the most objective perspective you'll ever hear.

So, while in Cleveland, I was told of a pastry shop that incorporated bacon into their cupcakes. This spoke volumes to me about the novelty value of bacon, and I had to try it, if only to debunk its appeal. When this pastry prospect came up, I was surrounded by Taqwacore bands, as well as the director of the film we were here to perform in conjunction with. Needless to say, we were rolling mad deep. We arrived only to find that they no longer carried the porcine confection. I was afraid that this trip out would end without fulfilling a peripheral endeavor. Luckily, the cupcake folk told us of a chocolate shop right down the street that had bacon truffles.

We caravan-ed down there, myself at the helm, moving with the quickness and trying to get this excursion over with. And there it was: 'That Bacon One'. I got two of them, exchanged a few pleasantries with the cashier, who must've been a little freaked out by the entourage I was traveling with, and bit into the first one. Some chocolate, some sweet yellow goo, no bacon. I popped the second half into my mouth as the lady behind the counter explained that in the center of this chocolate was a tiny piece of bacon and that the substances encasing it were meant to bring out the smokey flavor. It was a nuanced, balanced, and delicious chocolate, but the only evidence of bacon was the momentary crunchiness that disintegrated a moment after it was discovered. Nothing really bacon happened at all. I ate the other one, thanked the folks at Lilly's, and headed out.

The next thing I ate stuck in my memory a little more. I got 3 up from this place. Beef franks, making it not an Adventure, but amazing.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Cleve

I'm taking a couple of days off of pork writing to be in Cleveland. My band, Sunny Ali & the Kid, is playing at the Cleveland International Film Festival with our friends the Kominas, who did the soundtrack for a film playing here.

While this trip is keeping me from diligently maintaining the Adventures as I usually do, I'm allowing it for the love of something I cherish more than food experimentation; playing music. I hope you'll forgive me just this once. I will be back in Philly and snacking in a couple of days.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Los Taquitos de Puebla's Chorizo Tacos

When I was growing up in Thailand, my mom had to struggle to get us packaged American food. Though I was rather unfamiliar, having left the US shortly after my birth, my brother had all the unhealthy hankerings of an American kid. Because of its scarcity, our encounters with such items became a welcome treat, and my mom found herself making more trips to the incredibly overpriced supermarket for expatriates on Sukhumvit.

The items she trekked into the city for were as basic as bread and milk (neither of which were an integral part of the Thai diet at the time), and as novel as canned peaches, apple juice, and Oreos. In her quest to inspire an appetite in her two skinny, gangly sons, she brought home something she had loved in the US: Tacos. We treated that family pack of Old El Paso taco fixings like a regular trip to Pizza Hut (in Thailand, Pizza Hut is an actual restaurant and not simply a purveyor of circular garbage like it is in the US). Of course, the good folks at Old El Paso led us to believe that hard shell tacos were authentically Mexican. It wasn't until I came to the US, and even then not until I ventured past Taco Bell, that I discovered what a real Mexican taco was like...and I was disappointed.

Something about the authentic soft shell taco didn't give me the same satisfaction as the build-your-own hard shell experience my mom had created for us. As I experienced more and more authentic Mexican food, I found that it used some of the same spices found in Thai cuisine (cilantro, hot peppers, etc) but in far less appealing series of homogeneous preparations. Never did the suggestion of Mexican food meet an exuberantly positive reaction from my taste.

When I discovered the wonders of Philly's Italian Market years later, I found that there was a growing presence (albeit not a welcome one in the perspective of the entrenched Italians) of Mexican establishments. It was the first time I'd seen a Mexican diaspora with a concentration of restaurants, and I damned my previous notions regarding the cuisine and started anew.

La Lupe was my early favorite, although inconsistency in food quality (particularly the sometimes perfectly mushy and sometimes impossibly dry plantains), increasingly shitty service and price increases on the menu led me to abandon this standby for Veracruzana just up the street. Gradually, I found myself tiring once again of the various forms of tortilla-meat-beans.

It was a small squad of unusually boisterous attorneys that urged me to venture into the wonders of Mexican pork at a newer joint on 9th street called Pueblas, or 'Black Awning Joint' for ease of reference. My old friends (and likely my future legal council) Tony, Niev, and Jon noted that my blog was lacking in the true Mexican dish of chorizo tacos. On a beautiful day in South Philadelphia, I set out to fill the void.

I walked into an empty Pueblas and ordered from a menu filled with animal parts. I ordered the chorizo tacos with a side order of scallions. Waiting in the tiny orange table area, I perused the photography on the walls, pictures from Mexico and of Mexicans in Philadelphia, dressed in indigenous garb, celebrating, parading, cooking in kitchens, sitting on stoops, gathering, laughing, and before I got to the end of the series, my food was ready. To my order, I added two little glass bottles of Coke (unfortunately the American variety sweetened with high fructose corn syrup and not sugar). With the spoils of my journey in hand, I scampered home.

The tacos were very basic, the diced and cooked chorizo laid out on top of three overlapping taco tortillas with a single fried scallion to top it off. My side order revealed a dozen more of these green onions. I squeezed the limes provided over everything and began. The first bite revealed a texture not unlike ground beef, but far chewier and more pleasing. The slightly rubbery portions of the chopped sausage mingled with a purely meaty texture to completely eclipse the tortilla, which was simply a vessel for the filling. The combination between the inherent saltiness of the sausage, the added peppery hotness and the tartness of lime completely zapped any potentially off-putting pork flavors. Once again, dry sausage made it happen. Chorizo beat the crap out of most beef tacos I've had (although I'm still partial to beef tongue tacos).

As I ate, I periodically bit into a scallion. It's preparation left it crunchy in all its layers, making it one of the most pleasing cooked vegetables I've had the pleasure of biting into. My teeth cutting through each layer as I bit down and the explosion of sour-salty flavor that followed is a sensation that could, on its own, bring me back to Pueblas on a regular basis.

I was finally satisfied to have tried some real Mexican, and this category of food has risen out of obscurity in my mind. I'm excited about the prospect of all the great Latin American traditions of pork. I'll have to trek out to the Barrio soon.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Fado's Irish Breakfast - Happy St. Patty's Day!

Tom told me I was missing out, but it didn't look like it from where I was sitting. In a little restaurant just off the main drag of the Temple Bar district in Dublin, I watched his hangover woes disappear from across the table. He braced himself for the joyous meal and began prodding the tray of oddities laid out in front of him. Meanwhile, the old Irish man serving us brought me my meatless breakfast, little more than eggs and toast. Tom looked up momentarily and, with a mouth full of what appeared to be both black and white pudding, let out a cackle that pierced my whiskey smashed ears. I weakly lashed out by telling him that his breakfast looked like eight different kinds of animal shit laid out on a lunch tray. As always, he returned with a quip that left me stutter-laughing, and continued devouring the least appetizing pork dish I've ever seen.

If you remember from earlier posts, this is the same Tom that I was with in Rome, the one that fed me that first sinful bite. In the summer of 2007, we clobbered our way through five European cities, beginning and ending in Dublin. He influenced my pork eating with a two pronged attack; inflating my temptation, and ridiculing my falterings. Needless to say, it worked and Tom hasn't made any statements of encouragement since, at least in regards to my eating pork. That is, until two days ago when he reminded me of the upcoming Irish holiday and the breakfast that complements it.

I'm not sure where to go for Irish food. Edibles hardly seem to be the focus of most Irish establishments in the city. I decided on Fado downtown for its proximity to Brian's house. We both got the same thing; a full Irish breakfast; two eggs, two bangers, black and white pudding, ham, mushrooms, fried tomatoes, toast, and a triangular piece of drywall I was told was a potato pancake of some kind. And of course, no breakfast is complete without alcohol. We ordered pints of Guinness to wash it all down.

I went at the puddings first. Tom had mentioned that these were his favorite components, and I was curious to feel out something called 'pudding' that appeared completely solid. I started with the black, tinted enough by the pig's blood in it to make it a little intimidation. The texture, and even the flavor to some degree, reminded me of falafel: a crispy outer layer concealing a soft interior, each layer as grainy as the preparation allows them to be. The white was about same, only with a touch less of the hard textures in the black.

I moved on to the bangers. Brian said that these were cooked just how he liked them. They were nearly burnt to a crisp on the outside, the insides remaining positively gooey. Though it was salty and good, the consistency of the inside was a bit too reminiscent of the various types of meat-waste used to make it.

The ham was ham and didn't make an impression on me on its way down. Perhaps I've reached a point with iconic pork meats such as ham in which consumption doesn't phase me. I recognized that this particular part of the Irish breakfast was to me and would hold no surprises, making it easy to eat without much thought.

Though I was never enticed by the Irish breakfast, it's something that I can now cross off the list. It had to be done for this day, a day celebrating a Haram that so many Muslim's my age breach without hesitance. Interestingly, I won't be doing any drinking today. Lately, alcohol has been making me tired, and it's the middle of the week for Pete's sake! Other Haram's will continue as usual.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Han Dynasty's Pork Belly in Garlic Sauce

When I was in Tokyo for my semester abroad in 2005, I chose Seoul as my destination for the only trip I took outside Japan when I had the chance. Though I have no regrets about that decision, I really wish I'd made it to China. Friends of mine, a pack of architects (including recurring Adventures in Pork character Brian O'Keefe), returned from their trip to Shanghai and Beijing with tales of what actual Chinese food was like; in short, the noble origins of the bastardized, MSG infused concoctions of the yellow signs. I decided then that if I ever got a chance to make the trip, I would make it a food trip...well, I guess every trip I make is at least partially a food trip.

There's no Chinese culinary tradition as celebrated for its diversity as Szechuan cuisine. When Brian and Justin mentioned Han Dynasty in Old City, they were quick to note its lack of similarity to standard Chinese food. This is an important distinction in Philadelphia. Indeed, even what you find in Chinatown may be apt to have Dutch Masters sold alongside. It was raining like hell when Brian, Justin, Rachel, and myself walked into Han Dynasty.

The layout of the menu jumped out at me immediately. Each dish listed meat options to combine with the preparation; chicken, beef, pork, shrimp. We went with a couple of chicken dishes and a plate of pork with long hots, but what really made an impression on me was pork belly the likes of which I had never tried.

While many Chinese curries have put me off in the past with excessive greasiness, these slices of uncured belly piled in a hot, oily garlic sauce was nothing by pleasing. Utilizing my chopstick skills, I used each slice to wrap a bit of rice and a small piece of cucumber also swimming in the hot oil. The pork smell that so often repulses me was present, but in a manageable amount. What I mostly tasted was the garlic sauce, which was soaked into every little slice. The other pork dish, prepared with long hots, was there and did its thing, but in the end the pork belly stole the show.

I have to note that just after the pork belly appetizer showed up, our friend Hal walked in to Han with the most ridiculous mustache I've ever seen. Laughing my ass off and enjoying pork belly at the same time was a combination of pleasures so good it should be illegal. Hal, if you read this, please send me a picture. The world needs to see.

Another notable memory from this meal not soon to be forgotten was an encounter with a deadly spice. At one point Brian paused and said he'd bitten into something that made his mouth go cold and prevented him from eating for a solid three minutes (not an easy feat). The culprit was finally isolated and Justin passed me an innocent looking little pod and told me to taste it. What tasted familiar at first quickly became a bombardment of my taste buds that was in no way pleasant. Drinking cold water only made it worse, as the Novocaine sensation spread over my tongue. We asked the owner who told us this was the infamous Szechuan peppercorn. Go to Han, but look out for these little bastards while you're there.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Herr's Pork Rinds

In the world of packaged meat snacks, pork is the lowest common denominator. You won't find chicken, beef, or fish snacks in the chip aisle. You will, however, come across something as synonymous with sports spectating as it is with minor heart palpitations: pork rinds.

I was celebrating my article getting into the Philly Weekly by collecting issues of my best clip yet with Brian and Justin. As we walked toward Reyes Grocery on 22nd, both my compadres came out with the same recommendation. They were right, I'd never tried pork rinds. I was skeptical as to whether there was any actual meat in a back of pork rinds. The list of ingredients snubbed my lack of belief with a succinct ingredients list: Pork rinds, salt.

That was it. The simple formula for a cheap and tasty snack. It amazed me that something composed of animal parts could cost the same or less than any number of items containing only potatoes. Says something about the value of a pig.

When we got back to Justin's crib, his cats immediately knew what was up. They gravitated toward the bag of pork rinds like it was a decaying bird carcass (the only thing they like more than balls of yarn). Dodging their attempts at snatching the contents, I opened up the bag and pulled out a bulbous, yellow, impossibly light cloud of pig flake and stuffed it into my mouth. After a chew or two, the mass flaked into the flavor of pure grease and salt. It actually tasted pretty damn good.

The three of us finished the bag while discussing its contents. Brian warned that, though they were tasty and easy to scarf down, eating a whole bag would leave you feeling like you're having a heart attack. I noted this after I'd eaten a number of rinds; a slight nausea, similar to what I feel after eating a really greasy samosa. This sensation raised the question as to why they sell such an item in enormous bag sizes at certain stores. Of course, that question ignores the American affinity for general unhealthiness.

Nevertheless, I won't shy away from a pork rind or two next time they're in front of me. Though if I find myself in the chip aisle anytime soon, I'll be inclined to pick up a snack with a little less after burn.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Paper

By sheer luck, the Philly Weekly is doing an issue about pork this week, and what better way of introducing the mutant king of meats than with a guy who's just discovering it.

The article

Grab a copy from the yellow box if you're in Philly.

Thanks PW!

For anyone new to the blog, I'd recommend reading the very first post and then checking out the more recent food posts. I'm currently eating a bag of pork rinds. You'll be hearing more about them soon.