Working in downtown Manhattan exposed to me a hodgepodge of cuisines I'd previously only vaguely heard. My coworkers had their fingers on the pulse down tight, and during my first summer they led me to all their key spots, including Cafe Habana in Soho and the Sophie's Cuban Cuisine on Chambers Street. Cuban food hits a lot of the same notes I love about Korean food – it's comforting, hearty, spicy, low-key and best of all, cheap!
And a few from the pop-up attendees! Thanks guys!
coffee-laced carnitas, fried Spam, gruyere & pepper jack cheese, gochuchang aioli, kimchi pickle, My Friend's Mustard on toasted Cuban bread
My first thick, crunchy, pork-stuffed Cubano at Cafe Habana was a revelation in sandwiches, and we'd walk half an hour to sit in the blistering sun and get our foreheads and shoulders burnt while dipping the sandwiches in El Yucateco (best with both red and green!). Coffee is commonly used in Korean preparations of pork (especially the bossam-style) to offset funkiness, and Spam is a long-standing holdover from the war. And I mean, c'mon. SPAM FOR THE WIN!
"POST-COMMIE" OXTAIL SOUP
~ a comforting nuclear fusion of kkori gomtang & rabo encendido ~
braised oxtail, onion, pepper, carrot, tomato, beef bone broth
The oxtail at Sophie's Cuban Cuisine was the first place I saw oxtail being used outside of Korean kkori gomtang, and since I'm a sucker for slow-cooked off-cuts, I would trudge down to the bowels of downtown whenever requested for it. Also, RIP the long-lived NY Gomtang House in Manhattan. It was one of the few remaining specialized places, and I loved how comforting and well-priced their gomtangs and sullongtangs were. My parents used to frequent this place when I was a baby, which probably explains my affinity for anything weird meats and broth.
fried green plantains, grilled kimchi, cheese, gochuchang aioli, scallions
Tostones initially weren't my favorite, but when I was in Chicago last, my friend Joe directed us to get jibaritos, actually a Puerto Rican specialty where they use the flattened fried green plantains as the bread of the sandwich. I think we walked over a mile to get them, and the rest of the day reeking of that amazing garlic mayo that was smothered on them.
SWEET PICKLED RADISH