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Food + Cooking

The Beautician’s Pig

pork products

Once you have developed a taste for real meat from proper butchers, as opposed to the pallid, sanitized stuff they sell in supermarkets, there is no looking back. But buying real meat can be a sobering experience. The other day I popped into the wonderful Ginger Pig near London's Marylebone High Street to buy a large chunk of pork belly—my mission, to make that famous Hangzhou dish, Dongpo Pork (dong po rou), named after the Song Dynasty poet Su Dongpo. The belly was satisfyingly real, so real that it was still scattered with dozens of black hairs which the butcher's scraper had somehow missed (luckily it didn't have any nipples—my pet horror of belly pork preparation). The skin is an essential part of dong po rou, but I couldn't face serving my guests pieces of meat tufted with hairs. So I spent the night before my supper party poring over the skin with my own eyebrow tweezers, a needle, and a sharp knife. It was satisfying in the way that these things are, but it also reminded me uncomfortably of the similarities between pigs and us, their skin tone, the color of their flesh, and now their problems with depilation. I felt like a macabre beautician. But I am glad to say I did not lose my appetite and tucked into the cubes of meltingly-tender meat, darkened by soy sauce, mellow with sugar and rice wine, with my usual gusto. And none of my guests ended up with hairs between their teeth.