A local man explores bold new territory—at the dinner table.
Growing up Muslim in America has its temptations. Of the rules ripe for breaking, there is none less enticing than indulging in the forbidden pork. A combination of peer pressure, curiosity and downright daring will lead a guy to girls, alcohol and even the occasional game of poker. But hanging on to that final abstinence is easy—and it kept me feeling right.
Until recently, I believed a pig wasn’t something edible. Here is an animal, celebrated the world over for its versatility in culinary traditions but I cast it away for fear of laws I never questioned. Until this point, I had called myself an adventurer and yet I had not breached the final frontier.
My decision to venture into the uncharted territories of the meat table began with a simple question: What would it taste like? Not to anyone, but to me, a 25-year-old man with fully developed taste buds and preferences spanning continents. While on a trip to Italy, the curiosity got to me and I broke. It took just one prosciutto-wrapped melon slice for me to never look back.
Though I didn’t love all I ate, the sheer mystery bolstered my early momentum. Prosciutto and its putrid sourness, wild boar and its alluring gamy texture, bacon and its elusive appeal—all these dishes drove me further into sin. While part of my brain felt conflict with each bite, I began to unravel my years of conditioning, slowly learning to enjoy pork purely for its taste.
I approached pork belly, my current favorite, with trepidation since it’s the uncured version of bacon, a pork product I don’t like, despite the unbridled love of so many others. But, at South Street’s Percy Street Barbecue, I let my guard down just long enough for the pork belly to bypass my brain and go directly to my stomach, nudging my heart on its way down. A bite of that first thick slice of brined and smoked pig stomach made me a believer and reminded me of the potential joys of the pork world. The contrast between the stripes of meat and fat gave me moments of intrigue, spattered with brief, wonderful indulgences in the sheer saltiness of the dish. The rates at which these components disintegrated on my tongue astonished me as no pig flesh previously had.
I knew then that, not only would I welcome every future adventure, I would savor each one. ■
Abdullah Saeed blogs at adventuresinpork.com.
When PW got word that Abdullah Saeed was popping his pork cherry one dish at a time, we were eager to help him (and other swine virgins) navigate the journey and understand why so many of us are just so damn enamored by the sight of a pig on our plates. In addition to an in-depth breakdown of where to sample each part of the pig, we offer tips for pairing as well as a recipe for do-it-yourself bacon. And fret not, alcoholics, there’s booze, too. This is our Philadelphia Pork Primer and we’re ready to swine and dine you.
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PW's Taste of Philly 2014