Let’s not pretend that pulled pork is anything new. It’s not a rare thing to find pulled meats, including and especially pork, on menus any more.
This is why as I wandered around the Cider & Pork Festival today, I was overwhelmed at all the inventive, creative and downright tasty pork dishes on offer!
When one attends a food truck festival, there’s a science behind the decision of what to eat. You can’t go in without a plan, nonchalantly choosing the first dish that catches your eye. That my friends, is a rookie mistake.
The best plan of attach is to do a full lap of the venue, suss out which trucks have the longest queues (a clear indicator of popularity) and make a mental shortlist of all the best sounding dishes. Then you can make your purchases, find a shady spot and dig in.
My mental shortlist for the Cider & Pork Festival was Gumbo Kitchen, Dos Diablos and Van Go.
Three food trucks with three different types of cooked pork – needless to say, we felt like (very content) over-stuffed little piggies afterwards.
I fell in love with creole food when I visited New Orleans last year and have yet to find anywhere in Melbourne that comes remotely close to the authentic dishes I found in the French Quarter.
That is until today’s bowl of gumbo. Not the prettiest of dishes but this bowl was chocked full of chicken and pork sausage, a generous portion of rice underneath and the stock had the most incredibly hearty and spicy flavour.
Despite the hot temperature, we used the perfect slice of French bread to mop up every last morsel from the bowl.
Onto the Mexican dishes of the day – nachos and tacos. Despite being famous for their tacos, I actually ordered the loaded nachos from Dos Diablos.
Being the indecisive foodie that I am, a choice between slow roasted pork, grilled chicken or black beans was too hard so was delighted when my request for all three toppings was granted! Plus a serve of guac on top, which is a no-brainer, really.
The pork was tender enough to melt in your mouth, the chicken rub was faultless and with melted cheese and guac on top, each tortilla was an incredible flavour bomb.
It was a balancing act trying to get some of every ingredient onto each tortilla chip but worth the effort because it all mashed together so well.
An incredible dish and despite the fact that we over-ate anyway, the portion of the nachos (especially for the $16 price tag) was disappointingly on the small side.
And finally there was the taco, which I was so happy to discover was served the authentic Mexican way – in a soft shell!
The big feature of this dish was the 14-hour slow cooked pulled pork. 14 hours!
I can’t think of a food or entire meal that I’ve ever eaten in my entire life that’s required even half that time to prepare! Needless to say, I had pretty big expectations for this pork.
Consider my expectations, surpassed.
Never have I eaten such mesmerising meat before. In fact, I’ve never really understood how the phrase ‘melts in your mouth’ could be applied to meat…until today.
Loaded inside the taco was slaw and coriander, simple flavours which didn’t distract from the pork but also provided a refreshing buffer for the rich meaty flavour.
It’s a big call but this was probably one of the best tacos I’ve ever eaten, certainly the best in Melbourne by a mile.
As full as we were at this point, wanting to avoid serious food regret afterwards, we made one final stop at Madame Croquette, intrigued by their flavour combos and cute cone serving style.
Unfortunately, aside from the Southern Style Pulled Pork + Jalapeno croquette, all the other flavours were indistinguishable and didn’t resemble any croquette I’ve ever eaten.
Croquettes usually have a more solid filling; rice or ground meat.
Madame Croquette’s deep fried logs had what I can only describe as a fondue or custard-like consistency.
They all had a delightfully golden and crispy shell but inside was a soggy mess. We ordered the Mixed cone to sample all the flavours but nothing (other than the tiny pieces of pulled was recognisable) and they all had an overwhelmingly cheesy flavour.
A small damper on an otherwise glorious pork feast!
With the aroma of barbecued meats assaulting your nose from every which direction and a smorgasbord of options, I reckon we chose some of the best dishes the Festival had to offer.
Consider my pork expectations now irrevocably higher than ever.