It sounds like the opening of a joke – A Hungarian pig, an Italian recipe and a South Korean Chef meet in a bar – but the pig roast at BIGA in San Diego was nothing to laugh at. There were however plenty of grins as Chef/Owner, Tae Dickey demonstrated his take on an Italian classic Porchetta Roll. Then the afternoon unfolded into a foodies dream. Six acclaimed chefs incorporated pork into eight tasting courses. Delicious ciders from Bivouac and Duck Foot Brewing’s gluten-free beers were on tap. Regal Wines poured Italian vintages. While culinary culture took a turn away from tradition, satisfaction was definitely served.
This was the third BIGA pig roast and there was no doubt the event would be memorable given the chefs in attendance. There was Davin Waite from Wrench and Rodent. Whenever he shows up get ready for inspired bites. Willy Eick of Mission Bar and Grill has mastered the art of blending traditions deliciously. Carlos Rodriguez, chef de cuisine at BIGA, stirs his Texan roots and Puerto Rican influences in uniquely apt ways.
Evan Cruz of Arterra flavors his creations with a Filipino twist. Johnny Dolan of The Lion’s Share was instrumental in bringing it all together. Pastry Innovator, Kristianna Zabala of Split Bake House presented a plateful of tasty textures in a petite dessert flan laced with lard. But the star performance was Tae Dickey’s Porchetta Roll and the demonstration of his signature dish. You’ll find it on the menu every Saturday at BIGA.
Chef Dickey is no stranger to culinary culture clashes. He was born in South Korea but moved to Italy with his family as a teenager. He attended the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park, New York before opening BIGA three years ago. Those Italian years branded his cooking sensibilities but he’s not reverent about sticking with tradition. Before the anniversary meal progressed he summoned the crowd to a table near the entry windows. A large tray held a side of pork nest to a row of porcine steaks and a bowl of savory greens. Slapping the smooth pork side, Dickey confessed that “Italians tell you to beat the hell out of that skin” but he doesn’t. His secret is sprinkling baking soda over the surface lightly. “As we learned in chemistry class, baking soda is a natural tenderizer,” then he cautioned that after a few hours it’s important to wipe the soda off. Porchetta is traditionally done with pork loin but Chef Dickey favors a Heritage Breed, the Mangalista Pig.
Watch my video about the Mangalista Pigs and Chef Dickey’s Porchetta:
These pigs are nothing to laugh at either. They grow large and wooly and were originally bred in Hungary, becoming one of the fattest pigs in the world. The rush to Communism almost led to their extinction as meatier breeds became popular. Luckily with recent trends towards all things bacon, demand for the pigs has crossed culinary culture borders. Of course, American farmers were curious and a few are raising these porcine wonders. Near Buellton, California at the Winfield Farm big, curly Mangalitsa Pigs have taken over.
Owners Bruce and Diane Steele were growing organic vegetables when they decided to add a few pigs. The idea was to feed them with their unmarketable castoffs and past date veggies. They scooped up the acorns growing on their acres of ranchland to finish off the pigs’ diet before going to market. It worked too well as the pigs flourished and then drought conditions hampered their farming. Today they create a range of products including Leaf Lard, which is the highest grade and lower in saturated fat than other animals. It’s also higher in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. If that’s hard to swallow remember that that’s the same kind of fat that gives olive oil its healthy reputation.
Visit the Mangalica Pig Festival
Perhaps you’ll visit Hungary where the pigs have made a healthy comeback. They’ve rebounded from a few hundred to over 50,000 and are featured in everything from family style to haute cuisine dishes. Since 2007, an annual Mangalica Festival promotes products and hog farmers. The Festival in Budapest celebrates with cooking competitions, dozens of Mangalica dishes and over 100 exhibitors. It’s become one of the biggest gastro events of the year. Held in February it’s also one of the coldest but this year Palinka, a strong Hungarian drink will be showcased. The drink is distilled from a selection of local fruits that include apricot, cherry, apples, plums, and pears. If I were there I’d sip the Elderflower and spiced versions but pace myself. With 40 to 50% alcoholic content it’s sure to warm up festival crowds.
The Festival is held in a plaza near the riverside Parliament building. The location makes it east to attend by public transportation, train, and even riverboat. For tips about getting around Budapest see this earlier post.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this adventure in culinary cuisine and will share it with your friends or bookmark it for future reference.
Sounds like an intriguing festival for sure though not sure I would ever have the stomach to attend. How cute are those furry pigs? Interested story and I”m sure the dishes were sensational!
The event was a bit more ‘in your face’ kind of pig roast than I expected too. The restaurant is right downtown! Still it was an amazing group of people and the dishes were extraordinary. Thanks, Melody
I was drawn in by the BIGA dinner to start with. But as I keep reading you mention leaf lard. I’m totally fascinated but I am still not quite sure what the leaf lard is made from? Could you give me a little more info. Is it from the acorns or is it froth pigs? If from the pigs, why have they called if leaf lard?
Hi Sara, What I’ve read about Leaf Lard: It comes from the leafy fat around the pig’s kidney and is favored for baking, particularly pies! Mangalica pigs have lots of lard.
I had no idea Hungarian pigs were so cute! This sounds like a really special event and all the bites look yummy. The Festival would be fun to attend, too bad its in February
Perhaps you’ll have a chance to look for Mangalica foods in a warmer time of the year!
I’ve never heard of Mangalitsa Pigs before. They are so adorable! Of course I teeter between being an animals rights advocate and a pork fiend, but your food photos are winning out and making my mouth water. The BIGA event looks like loads of fun too.
I feel as you do – toggling. I think in the natural order of things that eating responsibly and compassionately is most important. It’s funny as a diver I learned quickly that it’s all eat or be eaten in the ocean. It turned my head around when thinking about the wild world that most of us living and raised in urban environments are out of touch with. I’m a proponent of ethical farming on land and in the ocean now.
I tried several Mangalica products when I visited Budapest. They were so good! It is good to know the Mangalica is gaining popularity in the US. I would love Hungarian food as a whole to be more popular in the US. We crave it so much!
How great that you tried it in Budapest. I ate some pork there but didn’t know about Mangalica at the time. Yes, I love finding Hungarian food closer to home as well.
How great to see 6 acclaimed chefs all making their own creations. So many great ways to enjoy a pig roast. The Italian porchetta roll sounds like a tasty treat. Interesting to learn the chef tricks. I would never have thought of using baking soda as a tenderizer. Maybe we will need to visit the Mangalica Pig Festival if we go back to Hungary.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be in Budapest for the festival? Bundle up though. I’d love to be there any time of year.
Although I have visited Hungary several times, I have never heard of Hungarian Pig before.
Title of the post caught my attention immediately. It sounds really like a good joke!
I have to say, as a pescetarian, pork is not my menu. But I respect personal freedom and the right to make choices in life.
Thank you, Milijana, I respect your food choices and also live mostly as a pescatarian. My husband runs a fish company so we eat fish often and even then I don’t eat large portions. I agree that there’s room for all choices.
It’s interesting to hear there’s a pig festival in Hungary. I’m amazed that pig numbers have grown from a few hundred to over 50,000!
It’s definitely a porcine trend. I wonder if the numbers include the US ranches as well?
Hahaha, “a Hungarian pig, an Italian recipe and a South Korean Chef meet in a bar” sounds indeed like a joke. I don’t eat pork, but the Porchetta Roll sounds really tasty. The development of Mangalica originated Arad County in Romania, but Hungarians claim it originated in Hungary. Truth is that Arad is in Transylvania which once belonged to the Austro-Hungarians.
Fascinating, Anda and thank you for that point of history. The borders changed so often in that part of the world that it’s been hard to know what happened where and when. My family is Croatian but my Grandmother claimed she was Hungarian and then my Zagreb cousin said her husband was actually from Italy (which had annexed part of Croatia at one point.) Regardless, it’s an impressive part of the world that I’d love to spend more time in.
I am so pleased you included the Filipino twist! Of course, one of the famous pig roasts is the Filipino lechon! The porchetta roll is a more refined version!
Very cool to learn about the Filipino Lechon. Thank you, Carol.
This sounds like my kind of festival. Those Hungarian pigs don’t look too happy. Does the pork taste different than others?
I don’t eat pork enough to claim there’s a difference but I’ve noticed that fattier cuts of meat or fish often have more flavor. So much depends on how it’s prepared.
Haha! What an amusing opening! I love pork so I was riveted to every word. BTW, that has to be the prettiest photo of the Parliament in Budapest that I’ve ever seen!
Thanks, Patti. Just having a bit of fun. Wished I had a picture of the Parliament in winter but loved seeing the beds of flowers when I was there a couple of years ago. Glad you like the resurrected picture.
Well, Elaine. The Mangalica Pig Festival is just one more reason for me to visit Hungary! It looks like quite the adventure! I love pork, so whether it takes me to San Diego or Budapest, I’m in!
Bacon flavored chocolate has been spotted here in Adrea’s Truffles. Another reason to visit San Diego too!