Culinary regionalism is an interesting thing.
Here are some of the keywords that define my native food snobbery: Cheese steaks, chicken parmesan subs (insert hoagies, heroes, grinders, poor boys, or whatever phrase you use to reference the sandwich,) PIZZA, Italian restaurants to be found on every corner, Tastykakes, seafood fresh from the sea, and Pork roll, egg, and cheese sandwiches. Ah
After a weeklong trip back to Jersey (dont even say it) I find myself being a bit of a jerk about food.
And its exit 67. Shut up.
Surely its like this for a lot of people, but every time I go home I wonder how I live without some of the foods I mentioned.
Oh, to order a pizza pie for $6 or so, to open the box and find 8 steaming slices waiting to be folded over (thats how we do it up there) and savored in all of their yummy goodness. The absence of such locally tortures me, and if you know where I can find it, please God, tell me.
To sit in a restaurant overlooking the water and eat a plate of seared scallops--actually, my Dads are better, come to think of it. Mango chutney. Freshly squeezed orange. Im actually drooling on my keyboard right now, if you can imagine.
As creatures bound by our senses in the collection and utilization of the information that frames both memory and personality, I think taste is often overlooked in importance.
Do we find it too functional to grant its due credit as one of the primary factors that defines place? Do we forget that cuisine is inextricably bound to the circumstances of environment?
Lets try it out. New York is a city housing a large number of Italians. Ah! New York has a plethora of wonderful Italian food.
Then theres the Jersey shore. OK, then, great seafood. I think its unnecessary to explain that correlation.
But while using this thesis as a basis for my fond feelings about Yankee food, or the food of any region for that matter, there is one thing that completely confuses me.
What, youre probably saying, is pork roll?
And thats exactly what I find so perplexing. Its pork roll, you know?
As Southern Living magazine recently reminded us, Memphis is hailed as the pork barbeque capital of the world.
Pork roll, my friends, is made of pork.
why, oh why, cant I find it here?
If youre a vegetarian youre probably thinking its because its nasty, immoral or both. But please bear with me.
Pork roll, for those who have no inkling as to its nature, is kind of like Canadian bacon, I guess, but different. Its also referred to as Taylor, or Jersey ham, and has been around (in Jersey, at least) for over a century.
Essentially, its just pork, hickory smoked with some preservatives and spices. Enter my disbelief at not finding it here in Memphis.
Typically this delicacy is served for breakfast, in the form of a pork roll, egg and cheese sandwich on a Kaiser roll. With salt, pepper and catsup. Yum.
If you find yourself perversely fascinated by this tale of a mysterious Jersey pork product, check out www.fnets.com/johnston.htm, and you can see a photo. Oh, and turn on your speakers. The site plays quite the rockin musical accompaniment.
I cannot tell you how many of my grade school lunches consisted of pork roll, and how little I appreciated it. How unaware I was of the fact that this branded me a Jersey girl!
Prior to my emigration, I never even suspected that this might be a cuisine (if you would call it that) particular to my home state. Now I miss it, arteries be damned.
In a pathetic attempt to quell this pork yearning that cannot be sated even here in the capital of all things pig, I found myself ordering a pork roll, egg and cheese at the Manahawkin, NJ flea market last week.
It was wonderful.v
Greasy, salty, and delicious. Yum.
So..if by some chance you read this and are a member of a wayward barbeque team from Jersey, en route to Memphis for the Barbeque Festival, all set to make barbequed pork roll sandwiches, and to enlighten our pig-loving brethren in the South as to the beauty of this meat, please put me on your list.
I will love you forever. Really.