Pork Roll: The Other White Meat's Bastard Brother

Friday, November 30, 2012

Have you ever heard of "pork roll"? Me neither. But apparently it's New Jersey's thing – aside from Snooki, jughandles, & being the butt of endless "How I Met Your Mother" jokes – so I decided I should probably give it a try.

I don't know about you, but when I first heard the term "pork roll," I thought of pork buns, à la dim sum. You know, these guys:

Oh, you light, fluffy, Asian bundles of pork-filled bliss! I was just delighted to hear that you were a Garden State staple! Except then I went grocery shopping & saw this on the shelves & got confused:

I felt confident that dim sum deliciousness wouldn't come packaged in cardboard & stored in the frozen foods aisle, so I turned to The Google, & The Google told me that pork roll is, sadly, not synonymous with pork buns. Rather, it is a processed meat product unique to New Jersey. It used to be called "Taylor Ham" until the government passed a law regulating food purity & determined that the item didn't meet the standards of being called "ham." Instead, it became marketed simply under the name pork roll, though a lot of places seem to still call it by the original brand name. My mom used to make me cover my ears when my uncle would talk about how hot dogs were made of "lips & assholes"; based on this bit of Wikipedia trivia, I suspect the same is true of Taylor "ham."

Furthermore, The Google also told me that this Jersey delicacy tastes like bologna-meets-Spam-meets-Canadian-bacon, which led me to believe that I'd probably hate myself for loving it. And hey, if you cut it like this, it's referred to as "Pac-Man bacon"!

So that's fun.

Tonight, Nathan & I went out for dinner in downtown Red Bank, in part because I'm leaving for a week & we wanted to spend some time together, but also because the whole town is dressed up in Christmas lights & feels a wee bit magical. Did you know that this Jew's a sucker for Christmas? It's true. Anyway, we ended up at an old-fashioned, 24-hour diner, the kind in an aluminum trailer-like thing, because that's another thing New Jersey does – diners. Lots of 'em. After confirming with our Jersey-native server that pork roll & Taylor ham were the same thing, I ordered a breakfast sandwich made with it, accompanied by American cheese & scrambled eggs on a hard roll... & then I waited. Nervously. Because did I just order a Spam sandwich? How embarrassing.

When it arrived, I was surprised to find that everything about it looked pretty normal. Curiously normal, in fact.

What a perfectly normal sandwich! This looks like, you know, a sandwich you'd get anywhere else, at any other diner, except with a vaguely strange hybrid meat product as its basis.

And it tasted normal, too. Pork roll is a little saltier than other breakfast meats, I'd say, & at least in this instance, it was significantly less greasy than other breakfast sandwiches I've consumed. I mean, it was still a diner breakfast sandwich, so there was no shortage of guilty disgustingness, but the pork roll didn't necessarily add to or subtract from that. It just tasted like... you know, breakfast meat. Ham or something.

The kind that's made with lips & assholes.

Thanks for the gastronomic initiation, New Jersey!

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