Sandwich Hack: The South Bronx Pan-Latin Special
Have you ever had a baleada? Perhaps Honduras' most distinctive food, the basic baleada (sincella) is accurately described as somewhere between a quesadilla and a burrito. A thick wheat tortilla that is filled with mashed beans, queso duro, and crema, then folded over. Other embellishments, including chorizo, scrambled eggs, and avocado can be added to make a baleada preparado, but the sincella is the standard; it is the plain slice of the baleada world.
Seis Vecinos, where I get my baleadas, happens to be located in a part of town that has seen a recent influx of Mexican immigrants. The streets surrounding the 149th Street stop in particular are witness to the convergence of a few particularly impressive (and disparate) Hispanic culinary delights. Which got me thinking about how and whether it could be improved. Baleada, meet carnitas! Delicious, whole-hog carnitas cooked the way they should be in a deep cauldron with fat and other flavorings including tequila and lime juice. This sandwich is, I will admit, the product of entirely too much time spent hanging out around 149th, ruminating on the myriad ways I'd like to eat those carnitas. But it can be yours, too! Here's how:
1) First, order a baleada at Seis Vecinos. Go for the basic, which the staff calls the regularo ($2.75).* The order will only take a few minutes, so there's no need to preemptively jump ship to El Atoradero. Instead, take a seat and order a glass of marañon.
* As to why I am not entirely sure; does anyone out there know?
2) Take your baleada to El Atoradero, a bodega just half-a-block west. Note the carnitas are only available on the weekends. Instead of getting your pork fix in a corn boat, ask for the meat alone. A pound will run you $9.00, but—depending on how overstuffed you want your tortilla—a fourth to a third of a pound should be suitable for a single baleada.
Along with your carnitas you'll get a ramekin of cilantro and white onion, tortillas (unnecessary given our aims), and a salsa of your choice. Ask for the feisty variety they call "molcajete", named after the traditional Mexican mortar and pestle used to mix and mash the ingredients. It's a hot mess of poblano peppers, pulp, chili seeds, and flakes of charred chili skin. Presuming that you do, remind them that you're game for spicy. If you don't favor chilies or want a brighter sandwich, the tomatillo is the next best option.
3) Got everything? Good! You won't want to let the baleada sit too long, so try to approach this a) hungry and b) with a vengeance. Open up the baleada, first laying out the carnitas, being careful to set aside any stray bones. Then spread the salsa evenly along the pork. Stick your finger in first to see how much you'll like—too much heat will kill all the fun. Follow by sprinkling on the cilantro and onion as you like it.
4) Finish by folding—making sure not to squish out any pork—and press. Think of your hand as a panino press, and voila! Call it Bronx Latino fusion, made in America.
Now that we're done, what should we call this baby? How about the baleada de comidas graves?* There is something so downright American about this concoction, born of two traditional foods from south of the border fused together in bizzaro world gluttony.** (Is this how cultural transfusion happens in the land of the free? Would a log detailing the birth of the buffalo chicken pizza read something like this?) But it's a match made in Heaven, people! The bland base of beans is balanced by the fatty pork, the cool crema, the tangy duro, and biting heat of the salsa playing into each other like Jenga blocks from colliding worlds. BOOM. How would you like your carnitas? On your pizza? Should we experiment with desert baleadas? Hold the beans, bring on the paletas!
* I know that serio is a more accurate translation, but graves is so much sillier. Just think: Comidas Graves de Ed Levine.
**It should be noted here that in Honduras, the grease-free baleada is a relative refuge from typically meat-centric food. Adding copious amounts of pork cooked in liquor and fat seems to, well, defeat the purpose? But, hey, America.
812 East 149th Street, The Bronx, NY 10454 (map)
800 East 149th Street, The Bronx, NY 10455 (map)
About the author: Chris Crowley is the author of the Bronx Eats column. He firmly believes in the power of pork. Keep abreast of his latest finds and nonsequiturs here, or contact him directly at chris.e.crowley [at] gmail.com. In person, your best bet is the window seat at Neerob or waiting in line at the Lechonera La Piranha trailer.