In his latest Counter Intelligence column, "Pork in the Time of Swine Flu -- Mexico City's Pig Cuisine, Snoot to Hoof," Jonathan Gold writes:
"Toasted corn has its place. Chiles are indispensable. The indescribable scent of achiote is key. But well-made carnitas may be at the center of the genius of the Mexican kitchen, a process evolved to draw the maximum fragrance out of something already inherently fragrant, pork seasoned with itself, and salt, and time. The greatest European charcuterie may draw from the same state of mind, the same minimalist aesthetic, and the same cuts of meat, but carnitas, whose flavor emerges over hours in a bath of its own bubbling lard rather than developing over months in the dark, comes from an even more natural place. Like duck confit, carnitas is both meat and a cipher of meat, only more so. Stripped of the necessities of both portability and preservation, the pork is allowed to reduce like consomme into purest essence of flesh. ...
"But in some parts of Mexico, Mexico City in particular, the term carnitas implies a process rather than a product, and you would no more ask for carnitas at a taquería than you would walk into a Baskin-Robbins and ask for an ice cream. ...
"Until recently, these carnitas were something you only read about in guidebooks, a style of cooking that had never quite worked its way up from the Distrito Federal to California. ... But there has been a surge of emigration from the capital to Los Angeles over the last few years, and a minor boomlet in D.F.-style foods. ...
"...[T]o taste the D.F.-style carnitas, it is necessary to travel ... to the new Metro Balderas, a formica-sheathed joint in the commercial heart of Highland Park named for a Mexico City subway station, whose menu of huaraches and pambazos and gorditas and pig's-foot tostadas grows on the weekends to encompass the vast range of organ-meat carnitas cookery, available by the kilo or by the taco, in all their sanguinary glory. Maciza -- sure there's maciza, sometimes dense and fibrous like aged ham and sometimes loose and juicy, spilling out of the huge $1.99 tacos like Beyonce out of a tight jumpsuit. Depending on the time of day, you'll probably find buche, pig's stomach, hacked into soft, meltingly rich slivers; oreja, slithery sliced pig's ear; lengua, firm, salty tongue; and the bits of skin called cueritos. (My habit is to ask what's available, and then get one taco of each.) The rib meat, costillas, is dripping and succulent; the trompa, nose, like biting into pure, braised fat. It turns out that practically any part of the pig tastes good when you simmer it long enough in its own fat."
We here at Squid Ink get hungry every time we read that passage, but we understand that some with more tender sensibilities may want to know exactly what they might be getting on their tortilla if they make the trip to Metro Balderas for snout or pig-ear carnitas. This is where Counter Intelligence photographer Anne Fishbein can help.
At the top of this post, you see the costillas or rib taco. But first, pause to consider the pig-ear taco at Metro Balderas ...
...Or, the snout...
There's no shame in deciding to go for the costillas instead. (We like the ear.) And remember, you can't get Swine Flu or even the H1N1 virus by eating cooked pork.
Meanwhile, Gold's review covered more than carnitas. We were particularly struck by the revelation of the pambazo, one of the specialties at the second restaurant in the review, Antojitos Chilangos: "The pambazos, D.F.-style sandwiches of chorizo and potatoes dipped in bright-red chile sauce and griddled to the shine of a well-worn serge suit, are the best in town."
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Finally, this statement was was hard to ignore: [Antojitos Chilangos'] extra-crunchy gorditas, filled with beans and stewed chicharrones, are the best I've had in a lifetime of gorditas.
Read the full review here, with complete address info.
And for a slideshow of all of Anne Fishbein's photos of Metro Balderas and Antojitos Chilangas, click here.