If you were to google the word, “jowl”, you would likely find the first page or 20 to be filled with information on reducing the saggy skin that hangs down on the side of some folks jaws. You’d also see a definition or two, a reference to dog jowls, and maybe some recipes involving hog jowl, a/k/a “jowl bacon”. What?! They make bacon out of pig faces? Why haven’t I heard of this before?
Having grown up outside of Philly, I only know one food made from pig faces: scrapple. Unfortunately, some scrapple includes liver, which makes it taste way to much like, well, liver. And I mean that in the most not-a-good-thing way. Additionally, it is often eaten by Eagles fans with ketchup, which is not my preference. Scrapple is pork scraps (face meat, at least in part), cooked with cornmeal and spices, then cooled in a loaf shape, then sliced and fried like bacon. The surface is crispy, and the inside is still soft. I eat it with a little maple syrup, while most everybody else at the table is reaching for the ketchup.
Having lived in Georgia for about 14 years, and another 14 in Virginia, I don’t think I’ve ever had jowl bacon. Apparently, it’s an ingredient in a popular New Year’s Day special dish in the South, called Hoppin’ John. Primarily made with jowl bacon or ham hocks, black-eyed peas, and collard greens, served on/with/in rice. Eating pork on New Year’s Day represents hope of an abundant year ahead, while the peas are to bring good luck and the greens bring the money. Unfortunately for me, black-eyed peas and greens also bring distinctive flavors I usually try to avoid.
When we first moved to Georgia, there were several culinary differences that were pretty noticeable.
- Sweet tea/unsweet tea, and plenty of it: this is not as big a deal anymore, as many chain restaurants serve sweet tea. But in most of the world back then, if you asked for sweet tea, you might get a genius answer like, “we have tea, and we have sugar, so….”.
- BBQ: there was barbecue everywhere. And it’s not just sliced meat with Arby’s sauce or burgers on the grill, for you uncultured swines. It would be smoked pork (or beef brisket, if you’re from Texas), with a secret recipe sauce (ie. not Kraft). The pork would most likely be pulled, chopped, or ribs. And everybody else does it wrong.
- Mexican: almost as many Mexican restaurants as BBQ restaurants, and they all had dedicated servers that only went around refilling tea glasses (“Sweet or Unsweet?”) and chips and salsa bowls.
- Southern: Cracker Barrel didn’t go further north than Virginia, back then, and I still haven’t seen a restaurant in the North serving “one meat, two vegetables” in cafeteria style. When my sister came to visit, she thought she was supposed to get one of everything. The cashier had to call over the manager to work that out.
- Hot sauce: any kind, every kind, no such thing as too much.
Back then, it was harder to get good cheese steaks or even pizza in Georgia. Not so much anymore. People like good food, and they like the food they grew up with. So good, regional food tends to find its way into new places. One of my favorite BBQ restaurants is actually Virgil’s, in New York City. And guess what you can buy in Georgia, now: scrapple. But the locals wouldn’t eat it with ketchup, so just pass the jug of hot sauce.