Today has been good to me, and despite the common attitude of Americans toward anything but “common meats,” I think it’s time to talk about one of the most tasteworthy albeit shunned part of a pig. They package and sell it at the Super Walmart in Humble, they’ve been eating it with banh canh (a Southwestern Vietnamese udon-like rice noodle soup) probably since the Southwestern delta became part of Vietnam. (And no, it is not because meat was rare that they had to eat everything, the Southwestern delta region is the most prosperous piece of land of the country.) It takes some work to cook, a strong hand to rub salt and wash, many hours of stewing on a stove, but the result never fails your satisfaction. Yes, it’s the foot of a pig.
It looks chubby, but if it’s cooked well, it takes almost no effort to rip the edible part off the bone, and even less to chew. It is a layer of thick skin with tendon and very little fat, extremely tender, but not too tender to lose the firm texture. It’s good because it’s firm and tender. It’s not dry and fibrous like a piece of pale chicken breast. It doesn’t need a knife to cut like a chunk of steak, it just comes off the bone. It is washable with salt water before cooking, unlike a snail. It doesn’t need a handful of spice or a skillet of oil and batter to buff up the taste like a fish fillet. You can keep it as simple as boiling in a pot of water, and the natural sweetness from its bone marrow will make it good on its own. My mom doesn’t cook it with banh canh either (for those who are interested in banh canh gio heo, here’s the recipe). She lets it sit on the stove for a while, then throws in vegetable of choice, usually potato, carrot, and broccoli, and a couple of eggs, to make a soup. Her most recent creation is pig’s feet stewed with artichoke, or “gio heo ham atiso“.
A recollection here. During lunch break in high school, some kids usually go out to a noodle shack outside the school gate to get a bowl of banh canh gio heo. They have lots of those in Saigon, where it can be anything from a house transformed into a small eatery indoor, or a few plastic chairs, a small folding table, and a noodle cart on the sidewalk. In those bowls you can see at most a slice or two of pig’s trotter, but never the whole thing. It’s expensive for the work put into cooking it, for its texture, and for its scarcity. One pig has only 4 of those but a ton of meat, and no dummy would raise a pig for its feet, so only when there are tons of pork sold that pigs would be killed, and pig’s feet would be available. Keep buying pork, guys!
PS: Good to see the foggy side of the world enjoy this as well.