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' 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.