Speaking with your mouth full is not encouraged. Just the same for spewing debris from an overflowed mouth. Minding your manners can prove exhausting. Particularly when everything you’ve come to know goes out the window.
I was raised in a household where sneaking a rest on an elbow during a meal was comparable to committing arson. Speaking of arson, the stares I’d receive down my mother’s nose in response were enough to burn a hole in your conscience. Not normally an advocate of fear-mongering, I suppose in this case it proved effective.
One inconsistency in my mother’s no-nonsense policy was the regular schedule of visits to a local sandwich joint. Primanti’s sandwiches put Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on the (glutton-based) culinary map, and they’re a primary reason why I’ve purchased a flight home this summer.
French fries and coleslaw on a sandwich? Indeed, my friend, you will not be disappointed. Prove your dedication by adding an egg inside as well.
When we’d make our visits to Primanti’s, the biggest challenge was not deciding between pastrami or capicola, as you might assume. Rather, it was figuring out how best to dislocate your jaw to enjoy the monstrous delight. Not normally a stiff-upper-lip accredited form of dining, the experience was an exception to the table rules. Filling your mouth to capacity was encouraged.
A lot was in the handling. Once you raised the sandwich for the initial bite, it was time to demonstrate your commitment. You must not release the hold until down to the very last morsels. Disregard, and disaster would ensue. The delicate balance would crumble into an intimidating pile of slop. It was in your best interest, as dining with forks at Primanti’s is viewed as rather pretentious.
This regular exercise in grip-centered technique proved useful when I found myself at my first teacher’s dinner in Korea. A mainstay of employment in this country, the outings are considered just as much an obligation as showing up on time for class. Explained to me as crucial for developing working relationships, nothing says bonding like acting as crutch to a stumbling deskmate.
It sent me into a tizzy when slurping was a sign of enjoyment and I was faced with the almighty lettuce wrap. Seeming impossible to consume in one bite, thankfully, I came with experience.
Wrapping up morsels of food in crispy lettuce blankets is kind of a staple of the Korean diet. It eliminates the need for plates, and adds a nice amount of freshness. Referred to as ssam, there’s often a basket of leaves present on the table.
Like Primanti’s, the art of ssam congestion is a delicate one. Nimble fingers are a bonus, and a lot is contingent upon finding the right balance between fill capacity and leaf surface area. Forget attempting multiple bites, you only end up with mangled gristle looking unsightly on your chin.
My personal plan of attack is the bag o’ gold method. I find it works best to gather the loose edges in one cluster around the center of the leaf. With a wide open mouth, I then shove the whole bit, bag first, into my mouth. It’s a one-handed technique, and you may want to set aside a good minute for chewing.
With weekend dinners out not proving enough to keep my techniques sharp, I decided to whip up something at home. It’s becoming crucial that my jaw is in shape for my visit(s) to Primanti’s this August. I came up with a variation of curry chicken salad that’s perfect for the picnic-friendly weather. It’s spiced up with ginger and orange, and perfect to keep in the fridge for an urge to practice on short order.
Curry Chicken Salad Ssam
4 cooked chicken breasts, shredded (about 4 cups)
2 cups julienned carrots (about 1 large carrot)
2/3 cup sliced green onions
1 small container plain yogurt (3 oz./85 grams)
2 Tbsp mayonnaise
1 Tbsp orange zest
1 Tbsp orange juice
2 tsp finely minced ginger
1 tsp curry powder
Lettuce or cabbage leaves (any variety)
1. Combine chicken, carrots and green onion in a medium-sized bowl.
2. In a small bowl, mix remaining ingredients until smoothly blended to make the dressing.
3. Pour dressing over chicken mixture, and stir until evenly distributed. Serve as wraps in leaves of your choice.