Day 27: Can’t have a Cuban cigar? Have a Cuban sandwich instead with the Bongo Brothers.
New York, NY — On the quest to diversify my tongue, I find myself intrigued more by trucks offering fare indicative of their pure ethnic roots, rather than the plethora of fusion trucks emerging daily. Not that fusion trucks aren’t good, on the contrary; I’ve found my fusion-lunches not only delicious, but perfect as the ideal vehicle to meld the colorful flavors of entirely different countries. But trucks that offer StreetGrubbers a taste of unadulterated authenticity always have their place on my menu.
On a sunny hump-day afternoon, I found the shimmering yellow plastered on the Bongo Brothers truck infinitely brighter so I stopped by for an early dinner. I arrived to 49th and Park to find one of the brothers busy pounding out delicious bags of grub. Meet Danny as he takes a quick minute to talk about my El Cubano.
For El Cubano-newbies, think of it as a traditional ham and cheese, but grilled with Swiss, mustard, and pickles, and stuffed with tender roasted pork.
My El Cubano came in a plastic container to preserve the warmth, but I quickly removed the lid to preserve that all-important crisp from the bread. It was mushed flat, and well-toasted in and out, and the Swiss was mild but provided for some deliciously gooey texture that reminded me of a fresh grilled cheese. The ham was thick, but tender and extra smoky, and it showcased well the bold sweetness of the roasted pork. It was moist with chunks of lean and fat meat and tasted freshly-pulled, with bits of charred pieces I so love.
The mustard and pickles (although both mild) brought hints of sour and spice to the party and served to further enhance the sweetness of the pork. It was muy delicioso, and although I loved the grilled cheese-ness of the sandwich, the sweet and tender pork was my clear favorite.
The accompanying empanada was a surprise. Its orange crust tasted as crisp as it looked. The edges were most crunchy, and I found the tiny bubbles of air trapped from the fryer most fun to nom on- fluffy insides and thin crispy skin. As you may now know, I’m a humongous fan of fare of this variety- doughed pockets of meat and veggie filling (fried or baked are equally great) – they’re convenient and super-easy to eat on the go so they’re the quintessential StreetGrub-type food.
While my Nuchas empanadas were delicious, these were delicious on a whole different scale. The obvious of course being fried-vs-baked. I’ll eat most things fried, but the line is thin in how quickly and often the shell loses its soft chewiness inside. It was not the case here. Tender and moist, it retained that soft resilient doughy-ness I love, and the filling here – ground beef soaked in sofrito was graced with my all-important 3S’s of Good Grub - Sweet, Savory, & Spicy,.
For sofrito-newbies, it’s a mixture of onions, garlic, and green bell peppers sauteed in herbs and oil that serve as a savory base to dishes. Thanks Danny, Albert and Bongo Brothers! Be sure to check their tweets for their most up-to-date locations.