Meat Up: Kitchen Stories

July 15, 2012

illustration by Cy de Groat
This article originally appeared in
Meatpaper Issue Eighteen 

HERE AT MEATPAPER, we’ve always been interested in the relationship between taste and memory. For this installment of “Meat Up,” we requested stories about the powerful memories that specific meaty flavors evoke, and the recipes associated with those flavors. Our inbox was inundated with nostalgia: sense memories of grandparents and exes, stories thick with the vapor of simmering sauce that fogs the windowpanes of recollection. It was a challenge to winnow them down, but here is a sampling.

I used to joke that I was married to Daniel Boone, someone who kept us supplied with fresh venison and salmon from our fishing boat. Friends would stop by to visit and knowingly bring their own burgers from McDonald’s, even though my husband was generous and willing to go out to the garage and slice off backstrap (the best cut) from the most recent deer he’d hung from the rafters. He knew how to cure the meat so that it never tasted gamey. I just wished he’d thought to bring it inside wrapped in paper, or even a bowl, when there were guests present. He was known to just carry it in his hand, blood dripping a path to the kitchen counter.

My daughter called store-bought meat “gutty.” After some bad venison at someone else’s house, her mantra at age four became,“I’m a vegetarian unless Daddy kills it.”

But things happen — mistakes were made, as they say — and we eventually divorced. As part of my child support payment, I get freezer boxes of venison and salmon every year. When the shipment arrives, I pull out my dank and weathered copy of Cooking Alaskan, glad that I no longer have to read the section about how to “butcher at home.” The venison arrives wrapped in freezer paper, labeled and dated. When I’m feeling sentimental, I think about the trail of blood and can’t help but remember how much work goes into feeding a family and keeping them happy.

As part of my child support payment, I get freezer boxes of venison and salmon every year.

Cranberry Meat Loaf from Cooking Alaskan
Courtesy of Mrs. Aline Strutz

1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup cranberry sauce
1 1/2 pounds ground venison, moose, or caribou
1/2 pound ground smoked ham (store bought)
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup whole lowbush cranberries
3/4 cup cracker crumbs
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons diced onion
3 bay leaves

Spread sugar over bottom of greased loaf pan. Mash cranberry sauce and spread over sugar. Combine remaining ingredients except bay leaves. shape into a loaf and place in pan. Place bay leaves on top of loaf. Bake for one hour at 350°F (175°C, for our Canadian neighbors). Remove bay leaves before serving.

Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
Public radio reporter


I ONCE HAD A BOYFRIEND WHO WAS OBSESSED WITH BARBECUE. Carolina style was his favorite: mounds of slow-cooked pork dressed in slinky sauce and piled on pillowy white rolls. He looked at my grandfather’s sauce recipe with chagrin. Where is it from, he wondered, staring at a typed list of ingredients that included vinegars (what kind?), waters (how much?), and liquid smoke.

My grandfather moved to Texas from California during the Depression to work in the oilfields. I don’t know if his recipe is for authentic Texas ’cue. I don’t know if he wrote it himself, cut it from the Houston newspaper, or stole it from a friend. But I do know this: as the thick sauce simmers on my stove, childhood memories bubble. I am five, spread on the prickly Texas grass in my grandparents’ backyard, watching flying squirrels jump from tree to tree. I am 12, swimming in the warm Gulf Coast while my grandparents walk hand in hand on the beach. I am 16, watching my cousin slather brisket with sauce for the meal that will follow my grandfather’s funeral. The recipe is from everywhere and nowhere. It is authentic and entirely new. It is from my grandfather; it is from me.

W.T.’s Barbecue Sauce

1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 lemon
1 sliced yellow onion
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke (optional)

Mix vinegar, water, sugar, pepper, lemon, onion, and butter in saucepan. Simmer 30 minutes, uncovered. add ketchup and remaining ingredients, and bring to a boil. remove from heat, or lower temperature and simmer to desired consistency. Makes about 2 cups of thick sauce.

Anne Zimmerman
San Francisco, CA 


My nonno cooked his squid and peas in the dank cellar where he made wine.

YOU CAN SMELL IT DOWN THE HALL IN MY APARTMENT BUILDING, crawling out into the street. It seeps into the walls and stays there for days. It’s not briny like the froth at the top of the sea, or crisp like oysters. It is murky, like the deep corners of the ocean. The squid stews in its own juices and ink remnants, with garlic, tomato paste, and black pepper, turning brown and thickening.

The smell brings me to my nonno’s house. He cooked his squid and peas in the dank cellar where he made wine. The tough squid simmered and broke down to tender in a giant pot. The smell climbed up the stairs and drove my grandmother crazy. It belonged down in the dark basement, which was always a few degrees cooler, with the pinochle games and the men drunk on wine, leaning against the stone walls.

The smell horrified me as a boy. I was American, and my nonno and nonna were aliens. I wouldn’t eat it. Watching it being eaten was almost as bad: humans slurping tentacles. I started wanting it when I wasn’t a kid anymore.

The recipe was never written down. My mother told me the basics, and I worked out the rest myself, guided by the smell. After my nonno’s funeral last summer, I waited months to make squid and peas again. I was afraid of where the smell would take me.

Squid and Peas

1 pound fresh squid (equal parts bodies and tentacles)
1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste
4 or 5 large cloves garlic, chopped (more or less, as you like)
1 to 2 cups peas, frozen or fresh (more or less, as you like)
olive oil
black pepper
2 1/2 cups warm water

Clean squid. Separate tentacles from bodies. Cut the bodies into rings; cut the tentacle groups in half if they are large.

Cover the bottom of a large sauté pan with olive oil, and place over medium heat. Add the squid and stir. Add a small amount of salt and pepper. After a few minutes, after the squid turns whitish, firms up, and gives out some of its liquid, throw in the garlic and mix it around. Be careful not to brown or burn the garlic.

Mix tomato paste into the water until it dissolves. Pour the solution over the squid until they are nearly covered. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Add more salt, and lower the heat to a simmer. Simmer for 60 to 90 minutes with the lid tilted, allowing the sauce to reduce. This dish does well with lots of black pepper, so add whenever you want and as
much as you like. With about 20 minutes to go, add the peas and a little more salt.

It’s done when the sauce is thick, murky, and a dark reddish brown. The squid should be tender and the peas still with a snap. Spoon into a shallow bowl and serve with a hunk of crusty bread for sopping.

Jonah Fontela


MY GRANDFATHER, A CATTLERANCHER, couldn’t make sense of supper if there wasn’t a pile of meat on his plate. When my mother cooked tacos, he spooned every last crumble of ground beef from the serving dish into his taco shells because he couldn’t imagine that two pounds were meant to feed an entire family.

My mother married a city man. An artist. Which also baffled my granddad. Her family introduced him at reunions and holidays: “Get a load,” they’d say, nodding in his direction. “He draws pictures for money, that one.”

Not much money. Not at first. For a long time, my family ate deviled ham, Vienna sausages, Spam. My mother concocted “hobo sandwiches,” and this is the one recipe my sister (herself an artist now) and I most wanted from our mom’s kitchen.

Years later, I’m a near-vegetarian. that fact alone would embarrass my granddad, but to add insult to injury, my sister and I still eat like hobos. When she visits, I skulk down the potted-meat aisle at the grocery and knock a can of Spam in my cart, hoping no one notices.

My sister and I watch the brown sugar bubble on each slice in the oven, anticipating the flavor of that sweet spot between country and city, means and hardship, art and ingenuity.

Hobo Sandwiches

1/4 cup onion, chopped
1 small pat butter
1 can of Van Camp’s pork and beans
1 tablespoon ketchup
1/2 tablespoon mustard
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 can of Spam
Hamburger buns
slices of American cheese

Chop and sauté 1/4 cup of the onion in butter in a skillet. Add the pork and beans. Add the ketchup, mustard, and 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar. Stir and let simmer. Slice Spam thinly. Place slices on foil-lined cookie sheet, sprinkle well with half of the remaining brown sugar, and bake at 350°F for 10 minutes. Flip the slices, sprinkling with brown sugar again, and bake that side for 10 minutes or until both sides are brown and cooked well. Serve spam, fresh from the oven, on hamburger buns, topped with beans and slices of American cheese.

Jill Patterson
Texas Tech University


SUNDAY NIGHT SUPPER WAS THE ONE TIME A WEEK we sat for a meal as a family — five of us around the table. Mostly we laughed. When I think of those nights, I see hysterics all around, forkfuls of lamb stalled on the way to the mouth. Sam giggling over his steak, Will with his arms in the air, Dad (who’s never owned a pair of blue jeans) cracking up despite himself, Mom laughing to the point of silence, tears on her cheeks. I’m there doubled over, trying to catch my breath. We ate, too, but the food played second fiddle to the jokes and misbehavior, rebellion in burp form, the act of wearing a Sox cap to the table, seeing if you could get away with saying “shit” or “ass.” I didn’t think about how the food was made; it appeared on the table. We ate it, and we joked.

My mom’s roast chicken is the meal most strongly associated with those nights. Crisp skin, moist meat, thyme and garlic. Step one in the instructions she wrote: Buy a chicken. She drew a diagram of the bird to show where to slather the mix of butter, garlic, Parmesan, and thyme. “Opposite of liposuction” is a parenthetical note. When I roast chicken now, when I slide my fingers between slick skin and cold flesh, I don’t just think of those boisterous, merry Sunday night suppers. I think of my mom, quiet in the kitchen beforehand, her fingers underneath the chicken skin, fighting against the gloom, four o’clock to seven on Sunday evening. She called them suicide hours.

Mom’s Roast Chicken

Buy a chicken. Combine: 3 tablespoons of soft butter, 3 tablespoons Parmesan, 2 chopped cloves of garlic, some thyme. Slide fingers underneath chicken skin membrane. spread butter mixture over body, under skin (opposite of liposuction). Salt and pepper outside of bird. Wash hands. Roast in a 350°F oven until done (about 90 minutes,
depending on poundage).

Nina Maclaughlin


This article originally appeared in Meatpaper Issue Eighteen

Gravy Train. Jerky. An etymology of meat words

July 15, 2012

story by Malia Wollan
illustrations by Holly Mulder-Wollan
This article originally appeared
Meatpaper Issue Eighteen. 

GRAVY TRAIN: noun, slang, originated in the United States. Gravy is an example of what linguists call a “ghost word,” or a word that originates in an error. In this case, it seems that sometime in the 14th century, a recipe transcriber mistook the Old French grané, meaning “grain or seed,” and wrote it as gravé. Gravé became gravy. Then in the late 19th or early 20th century, the word underwent a so-called meaning shift, coming to describe not just a meaty sauce but also easy money. The Oxford English Dictionary cites the first example of this usage in a July 1910 edition of the Saturday Evening Post. “Stick him for all you can,” the article read. “You’re a hard worker, and you mustn’t let somebody else git the gravy.” In 1927, American Speech, the quarterly academic journal of the American Dialect Society, wrote that gravy train was an American slang term meaning a paying position requiring little or no work. Etymologists are perplexed by the train. In his book Heavens to Betsy! And Other Curious Sayings, author Charles Earle Funk suggests that perhaps the term derived from “railroad lingo, in which a gravy run or a gravy train meant an easy run with good pay for the train crew.” Whatever its origin, the term quickly caught on with newspaper headline writers, politicians, ad men, and even rock stars. In the 1960s, General Foods named a dog food brand Gravy Train. In 1975, the English rock band Pink Floyd used the term in the lyrics to a song, “And did we tell you the name of the game, boy, we call it riding the gravy train.”

JERKY: noun. The term originates in the Spanish word charqui, also spelled charque, which is believed to be derived from the Quechua word ch’arki, meaning dried meat. Quechua is the language of the Incan Indians of modern-day Peru. The Incans built and maintained vast road networks throughout their South American empire, and travelers often relied on dried llama meat while on the road. Think today’s gas station jerky, only made of llama. When the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro arrived in the Incan empire in the 1530s, he and his men noted with admiration the Incans’ large quantities of dried meat. Though the term charqui became widely used in Spanish, it did not appear in English until 1612, in the writings of English explorer Captain John Smith. Smith, a founder of the Jamestown colony who famously took up with Pocahontas, translated the Spanish word into English as jerkin. In his account, A map of Virginia, with a description of the countrey, Smith describes the culture of Pocahontas’s tribe, the Algonquians. He compares the Algonquian dried meat to the dried meat he’d eaten in the Caribbean. “Their fish and flesh they boyle either very tenderly, or broyle it so long on hurdles over the fire,” he wrote. “Or else, after the Spanish fashion, putting it on a spit, they turne first the one side, then the other, til it be as drie as their jerkin beefe in the west Indies, that they may keepe it a month or more without putrifying.” 

Sources: Spanish Word Historieand Mysteries: English Words That Come FroSpanish; The Oxford English Dictionary; Weeds in the Garden oWords: Further Observationothe Tangled History of the English Language, by Kate Burridge; and Heavento Betsy! And Other CuriouSayings, by Charles Earle Funk. 

MALIA WOLLAN is a Meatpaper editor.

HOLLY MULDER-WOLLAN is an artist and illustrator living in Oakland, California.

This article originally appeared in Meatpaper Issue Eighteen.

Hot Dog. Beefcake. An etymology of meat words

March 27, 2012

story by Malia Wollan
illustration by Holly Mulder-Wollan
This article originally appeared in
Meatpaper Issue Seventeen. 

Beefcake n. slang, originated in the United States. (a) photographs or motion pictures of partially clad muscular men; (b) a display of sturdy masculine physique. The first printed instance of the word occurred in 1949 in American Speech, a quarterly academic journal of the American Dialect Society. “Alan Ladd has a beef — about ‘beefcake,’ the new Hollywood trend toward exposing the male chest.” The term “beefcake” is a play on the word “cheesecake,” which was a term used to describe sexy photographs of leggy women. The first recorded instance of the word “cheesecake” used in this sense occurred in Time in 1934. “Tabloid and Hearstmen [photographers working for newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst] go after ‘cheesecake,’ leg pictures of sporty females.” A Time article published in 1942 called German-American actress and singer Marlene Dietrich “The Supreme Empress of Cheesecake.”

Hot dog n. slang, originated in the United States. The sausage was so named because it was popularly believed to contain dog meat. The Hot Dog & Sausage Council begins its history of the term with another anecdote about a New York Journal sports cartoonist who, in 1901, drew a cartoon of dachshund sausages inside rolls. The story goes that, unsure how to spell “dachshund,” the cartoonist wrote “hot dog!” However, historians have yet to locate such a cartoon. The first confirmed printed reference to the hot dog was published in the Paterson Daily Press, of New Jersey, in December 1892. “The ‘hot dog’ was quickly inserted in a gash in a roll,” read the paper, “a dash of mustard also splashed on to the ‘dog’ with a piece of flat whittled stick, and the order was fulfilled.” The next year, another reference appeared in the Daily Times New, of Brunswick, New Jersey. “These ‘hot dog’ peddlers,” read the article, “they have been a familiar sight to thousands of summer visitors.”

Sources: The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, The Oxford English Dictionary, The Hot Dog & Sausage Council.

MALIA WOLLAN is a Meatpaper editor.

HOLLY MULDER-WOLLAN is an artist and illustrator living in Oakland, California.

This article originally appeared in Meatpaper Issue Seventeen.

Crab Man: A few hours on the Sea Fox

March 15, 2012

interview by Heather Smith
photos by Julio Duffoo
This article originally appeared in
Meatpaper Issue Seventeen. 

IT TAKES A DETERMINED PERSON a while to find Ron Ashwin. In the heart of the bustling T-shirt shops, trinketariums, and behemoth seafood eateries that make up
San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, there is an alley. That alley leads to a wharf, which leads to a dock, which leads, ultimately, to the Sea Fox, the fishing boat owned by the man himself. 

Ron Ashwin is not only a crab fisherman; he has played one on television. In an AT&T commercial, he spins a ship’s steering wheel maniacally and yells, “I want to catch more crab!” This role paid for new crab pots for the Sea Fox. The other fishermen took it with equanimity. “He beat out all the other guys at the audition just because he looked like the guy on the Gorton’s Fish Sticks box,” one of them explains, diplomatically.

At the time of our interview, Ashwin — along with all the other burly men sunning themselves on piles of crab pots — is on strike. The seafood processors, who last year bought 27.5 million pounds of the Dungeness crab their industry pulled off the California seabed, want to pay $2 a pound this year. That’s more than they got last year, but still one of the lowest prices anyone can remember. The crab fishermen want $2.50.

A week after our interview, both groups will settle for $2.25. Boats will lift anchor and take off on the hunt. 

What were prices like last year? 

Ron Ashwin: Last year the price went from $1.75 to $1.67. It was missed communication. Which is the game they play.

I’ve done negotiation before. They’re trying to chisel us — that’s it. It doesn’t matter to them what they sell. They’re selling tires, used cars, houses.

But we’re a solid industry now, and that’s what’s important. It’s everyone together, on three different ports. And we got surround sound on the boat.

What do you listen to? 

RA: Classic rock.

Is that what the crew likes to listen to? 

RA: I’m the captain. Any of that boom boom clap stuff — sorry! Overboard!

(To the deckhand splicing line on the deck of the boat) What’s it like being in a boat with these guys for days? 

DECKHAND: It’s terrible. We try to tolerate each other. We’d have more room in a prison cell. But as you can see, we have all the modern conveniences. We have radio. Television. Surround sound.

How did you get started working here? 

D: I was just fishing one day off of one of the piers. Ron came up and we started to talk. He said, “Do you know how to tie knots?” I said no. He said, “Do you need a job?” I said yeah. And then he showed me a few knots to tie.

Did you pick it up fast? 

D: Not really.

How long have you been fishing off the piers? 

D: All my life. I grew up in Chinatown, so the piers were never far away.

Is that what kids in Chinatown do? 

D: The ones that flunk. Ha ha. I was still a good student, though. It’s just a little something called “the call of the wild.”

Whenever I go out on the piers, I see all of these signs that say, in many different languages, that I should really think twice about eating any fish I catch myself in San Francisco Bay. How do you feel about those signs? 

D: Anything that looks good and is still swimming, I’ll eat it. It’s that farmed stuff that’s bad for you. All those hormones and steroids and shit.

(To Ron) What do you look for in a crab fisherman?

RA: Attitude. Physical ability. Willingness to wanna.

Half the pay you get is being proud of what you do. This is the most dangerous job on the planet. Ships can run us down. There’s no insurance.

I fished for 15 years alone. Then I took a crab pot in the shoulder. Now I need two guys to do the job that I used to do.

So what’s fishing in the Bay like now, compared with fishing in the Bay then? 

RA: There were more fish. We’ve cleaned up the Bay so much, there’s nothing left in it.

Where do you get your gear? 

RA: We all build our own. We add buoys. The lines are handmade. It takes 2.5 to 3 hours per crab pot to make and put in a line. It comes to about $220 to $235 a pot.

What do you use as bait? 

RA: Now that’s a secret. If they get the good stuff, they’ll pack themselves in so tight you can’t get them out. It’s like you poured them in like cement and they got hard. But it’s secret stuff. Baloney sandwiches. Secret stuff.

Has anyone in your family wanted to go into the business? 

RA: I had stepkids. I took ’em out and they said, “Thank you very much. See ya later.” One’s an accountant. One’s an RN.

I’ve worked in offices before. I’ve had businesses. It felt like someone died and we forgot to bury them.

What businesses? 

RA: I was a mechanical engineer. My people have been building dams and roads in California for a long time.

When I was a kid, I met a surgeon in the Presidio. He had a master’s in engineering. We started building aircraft together. Today kids are building from kits. I built from a white piece of paper.

I more or less quit trades in ’73, then I went back on contract. I spent more than 24 years training on the college level — all to catch a crab.

So did you build this boat? 

RA: When I bought this boat, she was a hull. I went through, redesigned the cabin, rewired it with three electrical systems: 2011 technology in a 64-year-old-boat. Surround sound …

Half the pay you get is being proud of what you do. This is the most dangerous job on the planet.

And what took you from engineering into fishing? 

RA: I learned to swim in the Bay in grammar school. I would tell my parents that I was going to the pool. I would get my gaggle and we would go swim in the ocean. Hunt little Dungeness crabs.

I was a wharf rat. I fished right here. Right off this dock, Pier 45. You know Municipal Pier? I fished underneath it, too. I would sit there for 16 hours. I would wait for the tide to come up and then wait six hours for it to go down again. I would put rags and olive oil in a coffee can and get it smoldering, and warm my hands on it, just to stay alive. But it was adventure.

I started selling fish. I would sell at the markets. I would put them on a bus and take them to the market in a cooler. I had people coming down from Chinatown, San Francisco.

I made anywhere from $35 to $60 a day. I didn’t know, but I was making more than my dad was. But I was in the fourth grade.

Were the commercial fishermen nice to you? 

RA: They were if you were Italian. But they knew who I was. I had a nickname — “Little Ron.”

San Francisco was a small community. Everyone knew everyone. All the cops knew me. I was in good standing. They were my friends. You can’t be in business as a 10-year-old without it. The game wardens knew who I was. They could have busted me.

I like fishing. It was like magnet and iron. Then I got my first boat in ’68, and that ruined me.

There’s a romance to it. We go out to the Farallon Islands, up and down the coast 500 miles. We can’t fish where the fish aren’t. We got to find the little critters. Bring ’em home. It’s a one-way ticket.

I like the adventure. I take pride in putting together a puzzle and watching it work. I used to build cars from a white piece of paper. This is doing something.

We all know what pride is. Your back is straighter. Food tastes better. It’s nice to have as much as you can have of it.

Do you still like crab? 

RA: I don’t eat much, but my wife won’t let me into the house unless I bring crab home, so there you are.


HEATHER SMITH is a Meatpaper editor. She is currently at work on a book about insects, humans, and the various misunderstandings that arise between them.

Photographer JULIO DUFFOO was born in Peru and raised in Brooklyn, and is now based in San Francisco. He has photographed people who spend their lives engaged with meat for every issue of Meatpaper since Issue One.

This article originally appeared in Meatpaper Issue Seventeen.

When Backyard Chickens Become Pets: The growing geriatric chicken population

October 15, 2010

story by Kasandra Griffin
photo by Jessica Niello
This article originally appeared in
Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.

JAMIE REA HAS HAD A ROUGH CHICKEN YEAR. First, the 40-something Portland native found one of her hens disemboweled by marauding raccoons. Then a replacement hen died in a heat wave, and a second replacement “hen” had to be renamed and relocated to a nearby farm when he started crowing. Then Rea’s remaining chicken stopped laying eggs. It may have been a stress reaction to the traumatic events around her, or it could simply have been old age. Lucky (who earned her name after surviving the bloody raccoon attack) is almost six years old, a good four years older than the oldest hens in commercial egg production. “It was sad,” says Rea. “I had to go buy eggs for the first time in five years.”

Rea was an early adopter in the now-booming trend of urban chicken raising. Her ranch-style home in Portland’s Madison South neighborhood sits on the front of a 5,000-square-foot lot. She removed most of the back lawn as soon as she moved in, to make room for a large vegetable garden, and a homemade coop populated with three fuzzy little chicks. “It always made sense to me to grow your own food, and chickens seem like the next step in that. As soon as I found out it was legal, I thought I would get some.”
She got tips from her boss at Kobos Coffee, David Kobos, who keeps a large flock at his rural home in nearby Molalla and gives public lectures on the joys of raising chickens. Unlike Kobos, however, Rea doesn’t have a flock of 50 and the ability to expand it further. Like most urban dwellers, she is constrained by a city code that allows only a few chickens. In Portland, three is the maximum allowed without a special permit.

When Lucky stopped laying eggs, Rea couldn’t bring herself to butcher her, even though that would have made room for another productive chicken. “They’ve been very easy pets to have,” she says. “It’s just heartbreaking when they get killed. I can’t imagine killing one myself, especially not to eat.” In that, she illustrates a new urban problem: People want to get closer to their food, but often that means getting closer to eggs, but not to meat — few want to eat an animal they know by name. When older hens stop laying, the owner runs out of eggs, which were the presumed point of having chickens in the first place.

Her use of the word “pet” is telling. She has a cat and partial custody of a dog, and she acknowledges that those are different kinds of pets, but she doesn’t shy away from using the word to describe her chickens. She named her first flock after characters in Fried Green Tomatoes and gave several others punny names referencing singers, such as Emmy Lou Hennis and Dolly Part-hen. She talks about which breeds are particularly friendly, just like someone discussing poodles versus retrievers: The buff orpington was so snuggly and sweet that he used to sit on her shoulder, whereas the araucanas are always skittish. Asked about the cost of raising chickens, she persists with the “pet” idea. “I see ads for chicken coops on Craigslist for $500, so they do cost a lot, but you spend that much on your dog or cat and they never lay eggs.”

People want to get closer to their food, but often that means getting closer to eggs, but not to meat.

Rea eats meat, and she acknowledges the paradox. “What right do I have to eat meat, if I’m not willing to butcher and process an animal? We’re so removed from what we eat.” But with packaged meat easily available at the grocery store, who would want to eat an animal they know by name?

Chickens in production egg facilities rarely live to their second birthday, because their egg production slows beyond profitability before then. They begin laying eggs at approximately 20 weeks. Their production peaks six to ten weeks later, at which point they lay an egg almost every day. Production then declines for the rest of the hen’s life, with particular drops during winter and the annual molt. Precise production quantity and timing details vary by breed and, more important, by nutrition and living conditions.

When commercial chickens are no longer profitable, they are slaughtered and replaced in the laying houses. Although chickens raised for eggs are different breeds than those raised for the breast and thigh meat found in your local grocery store, their meat does make it to market. They may end up in the chicken pot pie you grab from the freezer case, or in the food you buy for your (other) pets.

Not all urban chicken keepers resist butchering their hens, though. Laura Dalton, the art studio manager at Reed college, tends a large, productive garden on her 7,000-square-foot lot in Portland’s St. Johns neighborhood. She grows asparagus, apples, blueberries, and a range of year-round vegetables. Similar to Rea, she wanted to be closer to her food, so she added chickens to the mix in 2007. Unlike many other chicken owners, she got really close. In the fall of 2009, egg production from her first hens declined significantly. Her husband, David Renner, asked and received her permission to butcher them while she was at work. He beheaded the first one with a hatchet, and the second one with a pair of garden loppers, which he reports are easier to handle for a one-person slaughter job.

That was all perfectly legal, according to the Multnomah County Health Department. Code Enforcement Officer Dave Thompson is responsible for issuing permits to raise chickens and other animals within the city of Portland, and says there are no restrictions on backyard slaughter, “as long as it’s done in a humane manner. If it’s abusive or cruel, then it becomes an animal control matter.” The only complaints
he has received so far regarding backyard slaughter have been about larger animals, such as goats and pigs, which make a lot more noise than a chicken.

Regarding the actual meat, Dalton says, “They were tough, but deliciously flavored and made great stew.” Adds Renner, “They actually taste better when you butcher them yourself.”

The couple is happy to go into a lengthy narrative about how Americans have become accustomed to the plain taste of young chicken. Older chicken has a more complex flavor because of all the things it has eaten. “Chickens eat anything,” says Dalton. “And you are what you eat. If you are a two-month-old bird raised on grain in confinement, you’re going to taste pretty bland and boring, with very soft meat, and that’s what people are used to. But if you get out and run around in my yard, you’re going to accumulate flavor from grass, blueberries, bugs, tomatoes, and all the other things a chicken eats, when given the chance. At that point, the meat doesn’t taste like what you buy in the grocery store. It’s good, but it’s different.”

Like Rea, Dalton gave her first flock names from a novel — Ricketts, Pequod, and Grog, all characters in Moby Dick. Also like Rea, she notices the personalities, and talks about them fondly. “I felt kind of sad about the chickens but not sad enough to not eat them. I got attached to my first batch, but I think I will get less attached in the future. The original intention was to raise eggs and meat, and I feel good that it has worked out.”

As for what’s going on in other backyards, Dalton has this to say: “I will be highly amused to see how this pans out. I’m not in a position to judge others on whether they decide to keep their chickens or not. But I think it’s so American to get chickens for eggs and then keep them as pets, because you don’t have the chutzpah to eat them for dinner.”

Rea maintains a different view. “I won’t ever be killing mine. They bring so much to the garden whether or not they’re laying eggs. And I enjoy them so much. They make little noises, they scratch around, they eat table scraps, and they make great compost. They do put you in contact with your food, even when they stop producing it.”

Yes, they do. But they don’t necessarily become your food. They might just become your pets.

“I think it’s so American to get chickens for eggs and then keep them as pets, because you don’t have the chutzpah to eat them for dinner,” Dalton says.

KASANDRA GRIFFIN’s attempts to raise chickens were thwarted by marauding raccoons and neighborhood dogs, but she remains obsessed with building a better coop and trying again. She has worked on environmental policy in Portland, Oregon since 1997, and is currently finishing a master’s in public policy at UC Berkeley with a focus on sustainable agriculture.

JESSICA NIELLO is a painter and photographer living in Oakland, California. As a lover of chickens both as pets and as sandwiches, she is especially optimistic about contributing to this issue.

This article originally appeared in Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.

The Bunnies of Wartime: A World War II-era DIY meat manual resurfaces

October 15, 2010

book review by Novella Carpenter
This article originally appeared in 
Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.

KEEPING POULTRY AND RABBITS ON SCRAPS is a small, conveniently pocket-sized paperback, with thick bands of green running along the top and bottom, and a single illustration of a dancing penguin. The penguin is dancing, one surmises, because there are no instructions for how to raise and kill its species — unlike the chickens, ducks, and rabbits mentioned inside.

The handbook was first published in the UK in 1941. Bombs were being dropped on England, soldiers were fighting Fascists in far-off lands, and rationing of food was being enforced in most households. I like to think that, while the bombs were hailing down from the sky, some little lady was in the kitchen, crossing herself and stirring a batch of home-made chicken layer mash — a copy of Keeping Poultry and Rabbits on Scraps at her side.

The book tells how to raise hens on a mixture of government-issued “Balancer meal” combined with scraps like potatoes, fish waste, and stale bread, and how to keep them alive via coop building, chick rearing, and disease prevention. And then it explains the best way to dispatch them — though the description seems sparse compared with the description of how to kill a rabbit, which comes with photographs of the killing and cleaning process. That section’s author, Claude Goodchild, is an unabashed meat rabbit booster: “The production of rabbit flesh is the most economical means of bridging our present meat difficulty,” he writes. A meat difficulty. Well put, Claude.

Raising animals makes me think that all hell could break loose and I’d still have some eggs to fry, a stewing hen for the pot, or a rabbit stew.

Now, why would I want to know how to improvise livestock feed if I had to? Because lately I’ve been feeling a kinship with that WWII–era chicken lady. No literal bombs are falling over my apartment in Oakland, California — but everything is not entirely right either. There’s an oil spill. There’s massive unemployment. There’s the sense that the entire infrastructure of our government may crumble any day now.

And that’s where raising animals comes in. It makes me feel self-sufficient. It makes me think that all hell could break loose and I’d still have some eggs to fry, a stewing hen for the pot, or a rabbit stew. Assuming I still had electricity or a gas stove. But this is a quibble.

That Penguin rereleased this book in 2008 was prescient. I imagine they had it on the list as a novelty item, destined for the bathroom. But with the financial crisis still unfurling and so many more disasters brewing, I have a feeling the book will increasingly end up in our kitchens, earmarked and battered.

NOVELLA CARPENTER is the author of Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer. She raises rabbits, chickens, ducks, goats, and bees near downtown Oakland, and blogs about it at

This article originally appeared in Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.

Meat in America: Turning offal into energy, and other aspects of small-town butchery in northern Vermont

October 15, 2010

interview by Maria Gould
This article originally appeared in 
Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.

THIS IS THE FOURTH in an ongoing series of interviews about how Americans buy and consume meat. In this installment, Meatpaper checks in with Phil Brown, owner of Vermont Rabbitry and Custom Meat Processing in Glover, Vermont (pop. 966). Here, Phil discusses the pleasures and challenges of running a small business in a small town in a small state.

So, tell me about your business.
I started out raising rabbits and marketing to local supermarkets and restaurants, and started a customer base back in ’87, and have just grown a little bit. In the early stages, I was moving a lot of rabbits to large wholesale accounts, and not really liking the wholesale end of it, so I went back to dealing with my restaurants and my supermarkets and gourmet shops directly. You know, bigger wasn’t better. So we went back to the old “deal with your customers one-on-one and give them the best price you can with the best product you can.” We process on a Wednesday, deliver fresh on a Thursday, vac-packed or not — that’s a new option we offer, the vacuum packing to give them a little more shelf life, but everything is delivered fresh, whole carcass.

Are you still raising rabbits yourself?
No, now I have growers that grow for me. I have three growers that grow the rabbits for me, and I do the marketing for them.

And besides the rabbit growers in St. Albans, you also do custom meat processing?
Yes, for local farmers. Custom meat-cutting is for the farmers’ own use, not for resale. We process moose, bear — any type of great game — along with beef, pork, lamb. It’s something people in this part of the world are into: You grow vegetables all summer; you can them, freeze them, to put them up and get through the winter. It’s a survival thing.

And are the farmers doing the slaughtering themselves? Or are they using mobile slaughterhouses?
The state of Vermont has one of them, but it’s only for turkeys and chickens. They don’t have one for large animals. But I’ve got several good, qualified people that I use. They do a good clean job, a good clean kill. I set them up with a farmer, and they take care of it, and then we hang it up to four quarters, and it hangs for a week or better, and then we cut it off the rail…. Everything is slaughtered on the farm; then it comes to us and we do this end of it. We can only do stuff for the farmers’ own use, not for resale. We’re a State of Vermont–approved custom meat-cutting facility.

What kinds of methods are the farmers using to slaughter the animals?
I would say no different than anybody else. Shoot them, hang them, stick them. Get it done according to humane ways.

Is it state policy that you can’t slaughter and butcher at the same place, or do you just prefer to have the animals slaughtered on the farm?
We’re not state-inspected for the slaughtering end of it. I have been planning on expanding in that direction to put in an on-site slaughterhouse, but there’s a lot more involved than just the slaughtering. I want to compost, and do that end of it, but it all takes a lot of money, and being in a wheelchair, physically I can’t do a lot of that stuff — at least I haven’t figured out how. Because when you compost, you need to move your compost; there’s a lot more involved than just saying you’re gonna compost. If you’re gonna do it, do it right.

But as it is right now, we just butcher for the farmers. They slaughter it on the farm and we process it, do their cut-ups here. The animals have it better. They’re a lot calmer, you’re not getting them aggravated, when they’re killed on the farm. It’s better meat. It’s done immediately, it’s not getting abused to get in the trailer, not all wound up about going into some place where it can smell blood. It’s killed in a pretty relaxed atmosphere when it’s done on the farm. That’s the nice part about it.

But the rabbits are an exception?
Yes. That’s different. We’re able to slaughter them on the premises. There are no restrictions in the state as of yet for rabbits, except that they need to be processed in a state-approved facility, and I’m state-approved. When I started the business, that’s how we started, with the rabbits. And I knew that I needed to use the building a little bit more than just for the rabbits, to at least pay for it. So then I expanded on, and expanded on, and expanded on, and started cutting meat.We cut deer to start with, during the rifle season and the bow season and the muzzle-loader season. And then I got my state inspection for butcherhouse, and just kept moving on and on, trying to survive. Survive and pay the bills.

Has the current growth of the local food movement and interest in local food systems affected your business?
Yeah. We used to move quite a few rabbits to different ethnic groups; now it’s getting more universal. People are getting more educated about what they put in their bodies. And rabbit is one of the best meats on the market. Clean, healthy. A rabbit can’t live in dirty conditions; they can’t survive on dirty water; they have to have the best of the best; they have to be catered to, so to speak. Whereas a chicken can live in any nasty condition you can imagine, and a lot of other animals can, rabbits just don’t — if they’re not taken care of, they don’t do well. And my growers require certain requirements for what they have to do to keep me happy. One is to keep them in all-steel cages, with automatic water systems, and when they come through this door, they have to have white hair on them — they need to be white, not covered with any feces. Good, clean, in and out.

What do you do with the skins and the offal? For the rabbits as well as the other animals?
The [rabbit] hides go right into the dumpster and they go to the landfill, and they’re actually making power with it. I pay to get rid of it. And it goes to Casella’s Waste up in Coventry, and it goes into the landfill. But that stuff has got to be fairly important in making power — the bones, the scraps, the garbage, and all that stuff, once it’s broken down, that must create some gasses.

Same with the organs?
Yes. The heart and liver and kidneys go with the rabbit. The beef is slaughtered on the farm; everything we cut up here is slaughtered on the farm. So I don’t see any of the hides. During the moose season, we skin the moose here, and any of that stuff, they take the heads and hides; they’re required to take them. And usually they’ll tan them, or sometimes they go to the landfill too, or out on the back 40 and feed the coyotes!

Do you do the cutting yourself?
No, I have a guy who’s been cutting meat for 42 years, my main butcher. And I’m, so to speak, his assistant. But he does the main breakdown. Of course, you know, I’m in a wheelchair, so I don’t stand too tall! [Laughs.] But he does the breakdown off the rail. He started in his dad’s store at 15 years old, breaking down his old beef and cutting meat. It’s kind of a funny story: His dad was a meat cutter; he taught my grandmother how to cut meat, and my grandmother, in turn, taught my meat-cutter how to cut meat, and now he pretty much has taught me. It’s been a pretty wild and crazy cycle, how it’s come back around.

So who is next in line?
I don’t have any children, and I don’t have any nieces and nephews that are knocking on the door to come to work. They’re here, and they come to help once in a while, but at this point they’re all young, so I don’t think that they have the interest in it, but one never knows. It’s a tough living. It’s hard on your body parts, your hands. You’re always working in the cold. Arthritis is a common thing. If you look at a meat cutter’s hands, you’ll tell how good they are by the looks of their hands. Because if they haven’t been a meat cutter for very long, their hands are fine.

Do you think that this art and trade is dying out in Vermont, or is there a lot of potential for it to persist?
Oh it is. There’s fly-by-nighters showing up every so often, but how long they last, I don’t know. There are only a few of the old boys left; they’re thinning out rapidly. And all of the meat that comes into the supermarkets now, it’s broken down at the big processing plants. It comes already in the groups, so the people that have any experience in breaking down off the rail are pretty limited. They have no experience in the old style of breaking down off the track.

Any final words or thoughts?
We’re a small company trying to stay small. Bigger isn’t better. That small shop that can take care of your needs, that whole farmers’ market thing, is nice to get back to. The bartering system, dealing with your neighbors, everybody working together to try to get through it. Here in Vermont, we’ve been in such a survival mode for so long, people are like, “God, how is the recession affecting you?” And we’ve never  come out of it! We’ve always been in survival mode.

MARIA GOULD is a freelance editor, full-time graduate student, and part-time vegetable seller.

This article originally appeared in Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.

There’s No Such Thing as a Bad Cut

October 15, 2010

An excerpt from Primal Cuts: Cooking with America’s Best Butchers

interview by Marissa Guggiana
photo by Julio Duffoo
This article originally appeared in 
Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.


Sonoma Direct is a USDA-inspected meat plant in Petaluma, California. My family purchased it in 2005, and I have been running it since then. Slowly, I developed relationships with local food producers. A farmer here, a chef there. Along the way, I began to revisit my past life as a writer. Writing about food had always seemed to me like stealing from a moment. What more is there to describe beyond the wordless satisfaction of nourishment and pleasure? But discovering the complications of actually providing local meat brought me to a deeper understanding of the importance of intellectual generosity. To create community through food, we must share our wisdom and our discouragement and solutions. So I wrote a book called Primal Cuts: Cooking with America’s Best Butchers (Welcome Books, 2010). As much as providing recipes and cooking techniques, I am sharing the stories of people who have
passionately plodded through the process of providing protein.

Gerrit van den Noord, born in Holland, is the butcher at my meat-processing plant. He had worked for the previous owner and agreed to come on board when we bought the business. I can’t imagine a universe where there is a Sonoma Direct without Gerrit. He is an adventurer and incredibly skilled,
in a way that is both macho and humble. Gerrit has a sense of pride in his work that is almost daunting. In his world, butchering means taking care of his meat cutters and taking care of the building, as well as taking care of the carcass. His masterful knowledge of meat has made it possible for Sonoma Direct to become a resource for local ranchers who want to sell their meat, teaching them about the cuts and their applications. Plus, he is endlessly full of good stories.

I WAS AN ORPHAN AT 16,  and they wanted to put me in a camp. I knew a butcher and his wife, and they wanted me  to live with them instead. They had two kids of their own, a butcher shop downstairs, and they lived upstairs. They paid me under the table. I always had money then. The lady of the house would come down every night and take whatever was left for dinner. I never had a bad meal. There’s no such thing as a bad cut; it’s all about how you cook it.

Then I went to school for butchering, two days a week for three years. I joined the service, and when I came back, I went into carpentry for a while. When I got back to butchering, I worked for a company from Australia. They bought up cattle from all over Europe, and they would call me up and say, Gerrit, we’ve got 500 head in Italy or Austria or France, go take care of it. I did everything. I had 35 butchers working for me. That was a lot of fun. We all stayed in a hotel. Paris was a lot of problems because the people there would take a four-hour lunch break and drink wine. When I brought my guys, if they drank wine, they wouldn’t come back. A lot of the meat came from France; they raised them so the front was small and the back was really big because that’s where the money is.

Then, in Antwerp, we took the meat outside to cut —there were no regulations. Wherever the meat hall was in town, that’s where all the bars and the prostitutes were. In the slaughterhouses there was always a bottle of brandy in every corner; they said it was to keep the flies away. People could drink as much as they wanted and no one said anything. Insurance changed all that. Now people get cut and forget about it.

For several years, I had my own union. We didn’t have unions in Europe then. I knew all the butchers from Holland and Belgium, so the big grocery companies would call me when they were short. I would call my people up and send them out. I got bigger and bigger. I got so tired of it because of taxes. I told Jack, my first hire, that he could have the company and I moved to the United States.

I didn’t know any of the American names for the cuts, but that was easy to learn. Then I went to Tambolinis [a meat processing plant in San Mateo, now closed], and in three months I was running the place. There were two young kids doing all the ground, making $4 an hour. I gave them both a dollar-an-hour raise and Tambolini got so pissed. He said you run the place, but no raises.

I came to this plant to look for work when Simon Samson owned it. I walked in and couldn’t believe it was him. I’d seen Simon around in Holland, but I had no idea he had moved here.

My first boss would pick up every little scrap I missed —It’s all pennies and nickels, Gerrit, pennies and nickels. Of course, then I was making $20 a week. So meat was much more expensive then, relatively. That’s how I learned.


Contrary to popular belief, true gulyas does not include sour cream or tomato. What it does require, however, is genuine paprika, imported from Hungary. You can find it at specialty food stores, as well as many supermarkets. Some recipes recommend the addition of sauerkraut, which you can add at the very end, if desired. Serve with egg noodles.

2 tablespoons butter
2 large onions, peeled and chopped
2 pounds beef or pork for stew,
cut into 1½- to 2-inch cubes
¼ teaspoon caraway seeds
½ teaspoon fresh or dried marjoram leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 tablespoons imported Hungarian paprika
2 cups beef stock
1 cup water
4 large potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Cook the onions until they are soft and translucent. Add the beef and brown it on all sides.

Add the caraway seeds, marjoram, garlic, and paprika. Cook for a minute or two to soften the garlic and release the flavor of the paprika. Add the stock and water, and cover.

Simmer the beef over very low heat for 2 hours. (Alternatively, use an ovenproof casserole and cook the
goulash in a 300°F oven.)

Add the potatoes and cook until they are tender, about an hour. season to taste and serve.

Serves 6.

MARISSA GUGGIANA is the author of Primal Cuts: Cooking with America’s Best Butchers. She has also recently established the Butcher’s Guild, in support of a meat industry with integrity and fraternity.

Photographer JULIO DUFFOO was born in Peru and raised in Brooklyn, and is now based in San Francisco. He has photographed people who spend their lives engaged with meat for every issue of Meatpaper since Issue One.

This article originally appeared in Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.

Holy Sandwich! Edible architecture and the Renaissance section

October 15, 2010

by Nicholas de Monchaux
This article originally appeared in 
SANDWICH, a supplement to Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.


IN HIS SURVEY of Renaissance architecture, Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism, Rudolf Wittkower uses the buildings of Leon Batista Alberti and Andrea Palladio to advance what has become an enormously influential argument about the relationship between a building’s plan, section, and proportion. As it happens, it is also yet another argument for the enduring appeal of sandwiches.

The argument goes something like this: in their celebrated religious buildings, and in divinely proportioned private commissions such as Palladio’s Villa Rotonda of 1567 (Fig. 1), Renaissance architects developed an idealized vision of architectural proportion. When experiencing such a perfect space first-hand, we are only dimly aware of its true qualities. In order to reveal such a building’s mysteries, we need to look at a very particular kind of architectural drawing, extensively deployed by Wittkower himself: the section.

From the latin secare, or “to cut,” the section is a slice through a building or landscape. While such a slice can technically be in any direction, the word is most often used to refer to a vertical cut, allowing the building’s interior to be viewed from the side. When applied to a building like the Pantheon (a model for much of renaissance architecture,) or Villa Rotonda, the section reveals a precisely perfected layering of space and substance that was contained by what might seem to have been an overwhelming or inscrutable façade.

The effect of the well-proportioned renaissance interior recalls the philosophical musings of Mircea Eliade, Romanian philosopher and author of The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion.(1) In this influential text, Eliade argues the architectural quality of these two spiritual conditions. (Profane, not incidentally, comes from the latin pro-fane, or “outside the temple.”) Eliade contrasts our daily movements around the world in plan (from planum, or the bottom of the foot) with the sectional quality of sacred space, in which we are taken out of this mundane reality into a vertical realm of divine harmony — not incidentally the sectional harmony of sacred space found from temple to mosque to chapel.

And what does this have to do with the sandwich? Atypically, we can find the truth in marketing.

Fig. 2.

When you enter any latter-day temple of the sandwich — from a Venetian sandwich bar to the upmarket Pret A Manger in London or New York — you gaze on a revealing prospect. That is to say, an array of sandwiches (tramezzini in Venice, Fig 2), laboriously assembled from a variety of everyday ingredients, centered on bread, and then sliced, diagonally, to best reveal these contents in all their enticing proportions.

As Alberti wrote of the perfect church, the perfect sandwich is “the noblest ornament of a city and its beauty … surpasses imagination.”(2) The more holy the temple of the sandwich — at Katz’s Deli in New York or Louis’ Lunch in New Haven — the more likely these interior proportions will depart from the humdrum plan-based rectangle of their supporting bread to present a rounded, divine section. That the secret truth of the sandwich is revealed on its sectioning would surprise nobody less than a sandwich gourmet. Alberti’s reflection on perfect proportion in building equally applies to the perfect sandwich, which will “awaken sublime sensations … in such a way that every part has its absolutely fixed size … and nothing could be added or taken away without destroying the harmony of  the whole.” (3) And it is only through the cut that this mystery is revealed.

While the sandwich is thought to be at least a century younger than the Renaissance church, its combination of flavor and economy has ensured that it survives into modern life in a way that sectionally proportioned sacred spaces have not. Recent architectural examples reveal, however, that elegant sectional maneuvers are not lost on contemporary practitioners — especially those that derive their inspiration from the sandwich itself.

Fig 3, Fig 4.

Several notable buildings of the past decade — such as MVRDV’s dutch Pavilion at the Hannover Expo 2000 (Fig. 3) and Kengo Kuma’s Asakusa Tourist Information Center of 2009 (Fig. 4) — provide their architectural delight through a series of maneuvers that would be as anathema to Alberti as they are second nature to a short-order chef. Rather than the precise intersection of spheres, the architecture of such buildings instead relies on the stacking of everyday, even profane, elements  — in the case of the Dutch Pavilion, a polder, forest, and windfarm; in the case of Kuma’s Asakusa Center, a vernacular shed  — and their deliberate elevation through stacking, sandwiching, and then cutting. So revealed, as in the most elegant sandwich, is a nonchalant, overlapping grace. ♥


Fig. 1: Andrea Palladio, (1508-1580) I quattro libri dell’architettura. Volume 1, book 2, plate xv: (London edition, 1715) Villa Rotonda.

Fig. 2: Venetian Tramezzini. (Creative Commons image “La Dolce Vita” by Flickr user Lud Wing.)

Fig. 3: Mvrdv, Dutch Pavilion, Hannover Expo 2000.

Fig. 4: Kengo Kuma, Asakusa Tourist Information Center, Tokyo, 2009.


1. Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane; The Nature of Religion (New York: harcourt, Brace, 1959).

2. Rudolf Wittkower, Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism, Studies of the Warburg institute, v. 19 (London: Warburg institute, University of London, 1949), 6.

3. Ibid., 8.

NICHOLAS DE MONCHAUX is assistant professor of architecture and urban design at UC Berkeley. His work has been published in the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, Architectural Design (AD), and Meatpaper. He is the author of Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo, from MIT Press.

This article originally appeared in SANDWICH, a supplement to Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.

Saigon Sandwich: Vietnam’s crunchy cross-cultural creation

October 15, 2010

Story by Julie Wan
Photos by Chloe Aftel
This article originally appeared in 
SANDWICH, a supplement to Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.

IT WAS SIX YEARS AGO, but I still clearly remember the first time I tasted banh mi, the internationally popular Vietnamese sandwich. My cousin and I had bought the pork-liver pâté filling from a market in Ho Chi Minh City. When she handed me the little plastic bag filled with brownish paste, I was surprised at how warm it was as I held it in the cup of my hand. At home, we slathered the thick, fatty spread onto fresh bread, and voilà — it was the best breakfast i had ever bitten into.

This was banh mi (pronounced “bun may”) in its original form — a sandwich derived from French- influenced ingredients, a relic from colonial times in Vietnam. Its simplicity recalls skinny Parisian sandwiches with nothing but butter and sometimes ham. But unlike its denser French counterpart, banh mi — which refers to both the bread and the sandwich — is about half the length and usually made with a mixture of wheat and rice flours, giving it a light, crackly crust and an airy crumb.

To the basic bread and pâté, mayonnaise was added, another French-inspired touch. At our home, making mayo was a family affair, with one person slowly dripping oil over a bowl while the rest of us took turns frantically stirring the egg yolk with a pair of chopsticks, beating the orange goo slowly into a creamy lemon-yellow spread that my sister and I licked up with our fingers. Banh mi shops must have a more efficient process, but the best ones still make their mayo in-house with fresh eggs.

In Saigon, the basic sandwich got jazzed up, with a variety of fillings ranging from eggs fried sunny-side up (op la) for breakfast to heartier Vietnamese meats, including grilled pork (thit nuong), grilled chicken (ga nuong), meatballs (xiu mai), and shredded pork skin (bi). The version that’s become most popular is “the special” (banh mi dac biet, also known as banh mi thit nguoi), layered with thinly sliced Vietnamese cold cuts such as pork roll, ham, and headcheese encased in pig skin.

To offset all the rich spreads and salty meats, cooks add julienned strips of carrot and daikon radish pickled to a tangy sour-sweet perfection. and what is Vietnamese food without fresh herbs and vegetables? The meats are topped with a couple of sprigs of cilantro, along with a spear of cucumber and a few slices of chili pepper or jalapeño. The finishing touch is a dash of the Swiss seasoning sauce known as Maggi, though in a pinch, soy sauce can also work.

In the United States, banh mi has long been popular in Vietnamese enclaves in southern California’s San Gabriel Valley, as well as Houston, Texas. At the chain Banh Mi Che Cali, the sandwich is sold at an ongoing buy-two-get-one-free deal. Old-timers who recall when banh mi used to cost $1 still gripe about the whopping $2.50 price tag now attached to the sandwich.

During recent years, the banh mi craze has spread to the rest of the United States, and the sandwich has attracted a cult following from coast to coast. Because who wouldn’t love the banh mi’s mash-up of Eastern and Western influences; its melding of sour, sweet, salty, and spicy flavors; its satisfyingly creamy, crunchy, and crispy textures, all packed into one bite?

 In New Orleans it’s been affectionately dubbed the “Vietnamese po boy”; in Philly, the “Vietnamese hoagie”; and in other places, the “Saigon sub.” Food trucks like Nom Nom in Los Angeles and Rebel Heroes in Northern Virginia bring the sandwich to the people, announcing their locations each day via twitter.

In New York City, where everything gets a makeover, the banh mi has been reinvented into a hip urban sandwich. Though down-to-earth favorites like Banh Mi Saigon Bakery in Chinatown are still popular, trendy delis and cafés with catchy slogans and clever designs have popped up all over the city. Xie Xie in Hell’s Kitchen sells a sandwich inspired by cha ca Hanoi, a dish of turmeric fish and dill. Baogette, which has three locations in Manhattan, serves a Sloppy Bao that includes spicy curry beef and green mango. Williamsburg is a hive of hip banh mi joints in itself, home to Nha Toi, where you can get a banh mi pho inspired by Vietnam’s classic beef noodle soup, and Northeast Kingdom, where the Bushwick banh mi includes pig’s head and foie gras mousse.

A product of cross-cultural exchange to begin with, perhaps banh mi is a natural vehicle for continuing innovation. But for many Vietnam natives, including me, nothing satisfies like a good ol’ banh mi dac biet — that no-fail, on-the-go lunch companion, that road-trip meal of choice, that perfect late-night snack. ♥

JULIE WAN is a DC-based freelance writer who is not afraid to travel far for a good meal. She writes a food blog at, which archives recipes and stories from her Chinese-Vietnamese family.

CHLOE AFTEL splits her time between Los Angeles and San Francisco. You can see more of her work at

This article originally appeared in SANDWICH, a supplement to Meatpaper Issue Thirteen.