Yum Pork Belly Carnitas
Charming Chancho wows
Vancouver seems to be having a traditional Mexican food bloom this year. Personally I welcome it since for the longest time all the city had was Tex-Mex, exemplified by Taco Time.
With its singular focus on carnitas and the Scout magazine write up, I expected Chancho to be polished, slick, and hipster-ish. It’s not. Although painted with cheery colours and whimsical images, the small space is dim, and adorned with red and white checkered tables and plastic lawn chairs.
Oddly this was very re-assuring and somewhat familiar. Chancho, tucked away on Seymour steps from Emery Barnes Park, strikes me as a place that spends more money and care on the food than its décor. It reminds of the hidden gems serving fantastic Chinese or Vietnamese food I grew up eating but weirdly had an Italian motif, year round Christmas lights strung up, or both.
The food at Chancho has a Goldilocks’ dilemma. Although the eatery serves only carnitas, they do offer 3 versions comprised of different cuts of pork.
– The Maciza is comprised of meat from the leg and shoulder of the pig.
– The Panza is just pork belly.
– The Campenhano is combination of the belly, leg and shoulder meat.
For each option, the staff chops up your meat and crisps it up under a salamander. The meat is placed on four tortillas, which are made on premises, and then topped with cilantro and white onions. The order is completed with pickled cabbage, a wedge of lime, pinto beans, and a red and green sauce.
For both my visits I went with the quarter pound of meat. For those with bigger stomachs, half and full pound sizes are available.
I tried the lean maciza on my first trip. The shreds of pork were dry, and a bit tough. I was not surprised by the texture given the cuts of meat and crisping process. The meat did have a strong sweet savoury flavour.
On my return visit I went the opposite direction and had the panza. The diced pork belly was succulent, juicy and tender. In addition to the same umami in the maciza, there was another level of flavour with the panza probably from the fat (I know it’s not official, but I’ve always contended that fat is a taste). The pork belly was the winner for me.
I only used the green sauce as the red sauce was too spicy for me. Interestingly, I felt the panza did a better job melding all the flavours from the cabbage, beans, onions, cilantro, lime and green sauce into a more harmonious bite.
In contrast, the same accoutrements were more stand alone and distinct when paired with the maciza.
Holding all these ingredients was the in house made tortillas. These rounds are notably better – thin, soft yet sturdy (ie don’t rip in half when loaded with filling). The staff at Chancho warms them up and leaves a bit of leoparding, which adds another level of taste to the carnitas tacos.
The panza carnitas and their tortillas have made me a fan of Chancho. Even though it’s downtown, Chancho seems like a hidden gem. They let their food charm you, as you figure out the carnitas that’s just right for you.
1206 Seymour Street
Vancouver, BC V6B 3N9
Telephone: 604 428 8494