When my friend first told me about a Cuban pig roast, I immediately thought of pulled pork.
“No, it’s a whole pig that gets roasted.” he said. Oh interesting.
It really wasn’t far off from the Cuban pig roast as featured in GQ. A whole pig goes into a wooden box which has “La Caja China” (translation: Chinese Box) on it, which was really made in Florida, US. Coal is put on top of the box, and voila, you leave it there for five hours with one flip in the middle and it is ready to go.This allows the pig to slow-roast in indirect heat (remember, heat rises) inside the metal-lined oven underneath. Apparently in Cuba though, the pig is generally roasted on a skewer as we all imagine. The Chinese Box is really a Cuban American invention which makes it easier to roast a pig.
Is it really Chinese? It doesn’t appear so. Supposedly in Cuba, and in Latino countries all over the Caribbean, it is common to call anything clever or unusual “Chinese”, so it’s possible that the clever cooking box became the caja china. Below is the box with coal on top, as well as the end product.
Koreans eat a lot of pork for sure. One of the dishes that are popular is Bo Ssam, which is boiled pork belly served with Korean red sauce and Kimchi (fermented cabbage). The first recorded mention of Bo Ssam is in the 1940s, and it reportedly became more popular after independence from Japanese occupation in 1945.
These days, we can find Kimchi easily in the store, both in Korea and in the US. However, back in the day in Korea, Kimchi was made in large quantities in preparation of winter, put in large ceramic pots, and was buried in the ground for maximum length of preservation. There are records of people coming together to make Kimchi all day long, then making a whole pig and eating it with any leftover ingredients for Kimchi.
But pork is not allowed per Kashrut.
Kashrut refers to the body of Jewish law dealing with what foods we can and cannot eat and how those foods must be prepared and eaten. Pork is one of the “beasts of the earth” that are prohibited, along with camel, because it doesn’t chew the curds while having split hooves. Many modern Jews, including my fiance, believe that Kashrut is based on health hazards, and that it made sense in the olden days for people to prohibit pork and shell fish because they were more likely to spoil. While this is a widespread belief among modern Jews, for many it comes down to tradition and religious beliefs- because Torah says so. The Torah does not specify any reason for these laws, and for a Torah-observant, traditional Jew, there is no need for any other reason. Observance to Kashrut is an outward demonstration of faith in the higher being.
It is interesting to note that pork is one of the more taboo items when it comes to Kashrut. Not only is eating pork not kosher, but even raising pig is prohibited according to Talmud. I have more than once heard a Jewish person say that bacon really is where the line is drawn, or that he/she still does cheese burgers but doesn’t eat bacon. An article on the Fly Fishing Rabbi also speaks of one’s journey of becoming closer to Judaism, and as a result giving up pork, but keeping cheese burgers.
Some have found grotesque reasons in records that smell of pork roast is strangely similar to that of burning flesh, and therefore the added taboo against pork was really encouraged by the higher being’s intention to keep people away from the temptation of eating babies in times of famine. Others have interpreted pig’s split hooves as a pretension and hypocrisy as pigs appear to be kosher, when they are not.
Even a Jewish sausage maker doesn’t “cook pork” at home except for her own sausages because she feels it’s wrong, so it’s true- there is something about pork!