Chicharrones, or chicharrón, can be a variety of different things throughout the Spanish-speaking world, though the type that I know best is the crispy, crackly, oh so bad for you kind that come in a plastic bag and can be found in the chip aisle of the local 7-11.
I always thought of chicharrones as being crazily, excessively bad for you and never really gave them the time of day. If potato chips were terrible, awful things to put in your body, how much worse would it be if you replaced the potato part of the chip with pig skin!? I recently learned, however, that the only reason I was able to resist these horribly wonderful treats my entire life was because I never actually tried them.
A couple weeks before venturing south of the border, I tried chicharrones for the first time. I had mixed emotions at first; they start out very chiplike, but once they’ve been in your mouth for a second, they melt into what they truly are: deep fried pieces of pig skin.
The chicharrones that I tried were about as gourmet as you can get. They are produced by 4504 Meats locally in San Francisco and they are awesssommmmeeeeeee. I know that seems to contradict the fact that I just said I had mixed feelings about them, but they grew on me really, really fast. They are salty and sweet, but more than that, they absolutely melt when you eat them. If you don’t like unctuous, porky tastes and textures, this is never going to be your thing, but if you do–oh man. You should try these.
Anyways, that is not the point of this post. The point is that by the time I went to Mexico City, I had had my first chicharrón experience, and it was positive. I was ready to try the real deal.
On the Saturday that I was in the city, I went down to San Ángel to go to the Bazar Sábado (which deserves a post all of its own). There were a number of food stalls set up all around the premises, and after enjoying a huitlacoche quesadilla (I knew it was fungus but I JUST found out it translates to English as “corn smut?!”) and an ice cream cone, which was much less fungal and way more delicious, I spotted this guy:
Oh hell yes. That is my ice cream resting on the corner of the cart, and those, my friends, are pieces of chicharrón the size of a man’s chest. The first picture in this post provides a close-up of this remarkable delicacy. I had only ever seen it chopped up into pieces so I was thrilled by the prospect of getting one giant piece that I could munch on, cartoon style. Alas, my porcine fantasy did not last. We ordered some (I forget how much it cost but it was very, very little), and this is how they were presented to us:
In a plastic bag, slathered in Valentina. I got over the fact that I didn’t get one big piece fast enough and snatched a piece out of the bag. After only having tried the 4505 version which is basically liquid pig in a very temporary fried state, these were a little dry to me at first, but still so, so good. The fungus quesadilla, double scoop ice cream, and pork rinds were a little much for me and my buddy, so we didn’t end up finishing these, but I’m sure if I had had an ice cold Victoria at the time I could have put them all away.
Picking up a bag of these on the street is a great way for a less adventurous eater to get a little authentic Mexico City excitement into their diet without encountering too many..ahem…problems. I would highly recommend taking the pork rind plunge if you find yourself in the DF anytime soon!