Chicharrones are a Drug

Cracklings, lardons, chicharrones – I don’t care what you call them, fried pork rinds are a drug and should be regulated. At least over here in Havana where I’m double fisting my way to a quadruple bypass. I scare myself, so untamed is my gluttony for these nuggets of greasy bliss. They really are narcotic and I got hooked quick, which is what the best drugs do…

I’d lived quite a while in Cuba – years already – without thinking twice about chicharrones. I’d had them here, there, and elsewhere, but I wasn’t impressed. Like salty poofs with the carne flavor twice removed. What I didn’t know is that the chicharrones I had been eating all those years are known as chicharrones de viento. Loosely translated to mean salty poofs with the meat sabor twice removed.

Imagine my surprise to learn then, that a completely different category – an entirely different universe of chicharrones! – exists out there just waiting for me to discover it. And I have.

For the uninitiated, my new vice are chunks of pork rind and fat – ideally with a Chiclet of meat on top – fried in their own grease. I have an addictive personality, I admit (with the caveat that I’m convinced it’s genetic) but the ferocity with which I was/am hooked is frightening. There was no desire phase. Things went straight to I need it, now. Euphoria? None. In fact, I sicken myself with each sinful square and body and mind are conscious of it, complicit.

I know there are people out there who can relate.

I was in the Yucatan some months ago with the fried pork monkey riding my back like a freckle. In the supermercado they sell 25 different kinds of rinds – from the poofs to something approximating the junk I craved. The latter, while good, were just this side of mass produced. Tasty, but processed, if only a little. Counting my blessings (after all, even a cut drug controls the jones), I left the store, crossed the street and found myself facing a simple kiosk manned by a big, jolly Yucatecan mama carving up all things pig. Ears, entrails, loin and yes. Yes.

I waited my turn making the small talk you make while waiting on line in Latin America. When I was up, I told the jolly mama what I wanted. She looked at me knowingly. Knowingly I tell you! and started heaping the glistening squares onto a swath of newspaper with her bare hands. ‘How much do I owe you?’ I asked as she bundled up the goods. ‘Nothing, it’s on the house.’ Just like a dealer: the first taste is free so you’ll be back, hankering for more.

Not long after, we were at a family celebration here in Havana following the usual script: catching up, sharing stories and a big meal, wrapping up with smokes and singing if Octavio or Jorge feels like pulling out the guitar. On the day in question, we were at the smokes part when the neighbors invited us over for a round of dominoes. When we made our way to the back yard, there was rum and dominoes of course and a platter piled high with empella. Oh my.

Methadone is to heroin what chicharrones are to empella.

What’s so special? Not much – they’re simply super chiquito chicharrones. The stuff I craved cut up really small. Now that I think about it, now that I’m practically dry dreaming of empella, I realize it wasn’t just their diminutive size. It was that each morsel had the little Chiclet of meat on top, which when coupled with the deep fried fat on the bottom…dry dream turns wet.

So I’m just back from Haiti. And although I made three simple welcome home requests (‘salad, salad, salad’), my hubby surprised me with not only an ensalada gigante, but yucca with mojo and a bowl brimming with homemade chicharrones. What a guy (and that’s just the G-rated portion of our programming)!

A couple of days later, my sister-in-law was butchering a quarter pig when she sawed off a huge slab of rind and fat bejeweled with those key cling ons of meat. Now I get my fix right at home.

And home feels very, very good right now.

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16 Comments

Filed under Americans in cuba, cuban cooking, Here is Haiti, Living Abroad

16 responses to “Chicharrones are a Drug

  1. 2loca

    Oh Conner– me too! I love chicharrones! Its good to know I’m not alone in the world with this. Yummmm! How delish! My mouth is watering. Others may not understand ( like my husband who is not Cuban and very health conscious ), but we do!
    During Christmas, when my mom finishes cooking the lechon, I beg to cut the crispy greasy skin off with the little pieces of meat stuck to it–heaven.
    I feel a craving coming on…

  2. viajeraUK

    Oh Conner – welcome to the sad, sad world of chicharron addiction. But be reassured you’re not alone. I am from somewhere (the UK) where we have our own indigenous chicharron tradition, only they’re given the unlovely if accurate name of “pork scratchings” and they’re seen as food for obese football hooligans, so I never really got into them (especially when they come cold and greasy out of a foil packet). But Cuba’s hot, crisp, salty, organic – and occasionally kind hairy – chicharrones got their hooks in me and won’t let me go.

    Enjoy your vice – it’s better than smoking, after all – but do be careful. In my experience the ‘hangover’ from overindulgence in chicharrones can get messy – I don’t think I’ve ever felt so ill after overdoing it once, and didn’t /couldn’t eat anything for days after. Remember you are, in effect, just eating a glass full of lard with a few fibres in it. Needs rum and congris for safe dilution and digestion, I think. NEVER eat a whole plate of chicharrones on their own, or on your own … no matter how tempting it might be to reach for another and another and then another….
    glad you’re back OK from Haiti.

    • My mom always says “you learn something new every day” which is one of the keys to (my) life and viajerauk (who I know virtually from another forum) never fails to deliver. Pork scrathings?! Who knew? Well now I do, so mil gracias for that. The cold and greasy part sounds nasty, but your insight leads me to ask:

      - any other readers out there have experience wtih local, regional or national versions of my addictive greasy nuggets?

      And yes!! I was totally remiss not to mention the little porcine hairs fringing the fat on a lot of these Cuban beauties. Funky, but fun in a midway-carnie kind of way. And yes. The hangover. Ive known it – after eating an entire plate, on my own, no congris or ron or post-chicharon roll in the hay to work it off.

      A friend of mine (and interestingly, every single one of the fried pork rind fanatics who have been in touch with me since this post went live are women. what up with that?) tipped me to th fabulous offerings at el cochinito in vedado, which I’ll have to try and now Im cooking up a new idea: Im writing an iApp to Havana, a kind of not for tourists guide to the place and I think Ill just have to include a section on my favorite spit roasted and fried pork rind places, sooooo

      WHERE’S YOUR FAVORITE PLACE TO INDULGE IN HAVANA PEOPLE?

      Thanks for the post-Haiti well wishes. I still go to sleep nd wake up thinking about all the/my people there. no es fácil.

      • Montreal

        Hi Conner,

        Actually, chicarrones are quite popular in the Balkans also… well, they’re called “čvarci” (pronounced Chwar-TZee) back home, but the concept is the same, they’re widely available in (northern) Croatia, non-halal parts of Bosnia&Herzegovina and pretty much throughout Serbia and Montenegro. Consequently, you can find them pretty much anywhere you find my fellow expats, I went through a popcorn bag of them at this Bosnian deli in Queens last summer… from a pound-for-pound perspective, you’d be hard pressed to find a more delicious way to give you arteries the finger…

        P.S. I realize that my 0.02$ are somewhat dated on this, but since I only recently got wise to your blog, I’ve been going through the old posts chronologically in my spare time, awesome stuff Conner, really, keep it coming..

      • I’ll take all the two cents I can get amigo! especially when it’s so flattering (also, I always love thinking/writing/reading about chicarrones!)

  3. Dios mío – we just returned from the agricultural fair (held every weekend on carlos tercera near boyeros) where we scored $3 of PRIMO chicharonnes material.

    Im salivating, but the slab of meat/fat/skin we bought gave me pause: it had three pairs of sow nipples lining it.

    Gotta go. my fix is ready…

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  6. galia

    For me this is the best of your writings so far. Loved it. Chicharrones ARE addictive. My husband, myself and our kids are chicharrones junkies. By some reason no matter how hard we try to cook chicharrones de puerco ourselves no nos sale bien. Also you cannot buy el pellejo here in the shops. I would normally go the a butcher’s and ask for some. They look at me as if I was loca. They would give it to me for free, because it’s a waste here. When we visit UK we always buy “pork scratchings” there. As viajerauk said it does not taste the same, but we love it and bring home loads and loads. In Spain they sell them puffy kind and call them corteza de cerdo (and there is another one – corteza de jamon). I find the puffy ones dangerous – it’s easy to choke on them and you must have your cerveza at hand (or at least a glass of water). I also like chicharroncitos de pollo. It’s an easy fix.

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  9. Dayi

    Hahahahah! Oh my god Conner your so funny, i just read your article talking about the situación in Haití, and you were responding to a comment speaking about your opinion of the comunism in Cuba, and now your talking about chicharrones?! Jajajjajajaj! Por favor eres increíble, Devera. Me encanta todo que tienes que desir y tus opiniones son exactamente las mías, eres la persona perfecta que dise la verdad siempre, y que siempre le echa unos chistes por’alli. Youre soooo real! And i love that about you!

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