A while back, someone (several someones) alerted me to the fact that there was a “Bacon Critic” job up for grabs. Not one to pass up an opportunity like that, I went ahead an applied! Alas, I did not get the job. However, as part of the application, I did need to write “a short essay of fewer than 600 words recounting your favorite bacon-related memory”.
Favorite bacon-related memory…how can I pick just one? These are the tough questions that only a dedicated Bacon Critic can answer.
I now present to you, “Like Bacon, But Not”, my first (but probably not my last) bacon-flavored essay:
After college, my future wife and I spent a couple of weeks kicking around Italy. In general the food was the best I’ve ever had…with one significant exception.
We were staying at some out of the way hotel in the Italian lakes region. It was close by an Italian lake, but not THE Italian lakes, if you catch my drift. Very remote and un-touristy.
“No problem, we can do this,” we oh-so-naively thought. “The natives gotta eat, right? We’ll do as the Romans do.”
We asked at the front desk and they told us about the “restaurant on the island”, so we set off vaguely in that direction. We found a dock and stood there with no one else in sight until an old guy in a fishing boat pulled up. “Ferry?” he said. “Restaurant?” Despite the fact that those two words seemed to be the extent of his English, we did want to go to the restaurant, so we climbed on board.
About this time we realized that we were completely off the map, and getting further away. We tried asking about return trips and timetables, but this level of detail was completely beyond him. However, he did use hand gestures to insist, repeatedly, that we should take many pictures of each other in the boat. We did it too; no sense in pissing this guy off. Nobody knew where we were, we didn’t know if the restaurant was even real, and this guy didn’t have enough English to say, “I am not an ax murderer.” For all we knew, these pictures could be the only evidence they find when they inevitably dredged the lake for our bodies.
When we finally made it to the island, the menu was naturally in Italian. Eventually we managed to get a hold of the owner’s wife, who had taken some English in high school. She ran down the menu giving us our options: “fish from the lake”, “fish from the lake”, “fish from the lake”, and “like bacon, but not”.
Now, the way I figured it, you could literally not go wrong with “like bacon, but not”. I mean, best case it’s delicious bacon, and worst case it’s delicious ham.
When our food came out, I was presented with a plate of what appeared to be thinly sliced provolone cheese. “I don’t think this is what I ordered,” I whispered to Sara after the waiter had left. I slipped the menu back out and scanned to the item identified as “like bacon, but not”.
Lardo. Literally, a plate of lard.
Now, I didn’t exactly want to eat a plate of lard, but when in Rome, right? More specifically, we were trapped on an island in the middle of nowhere with a ferryman who may never show up again. This might be our last meal.
Gamely, I took some of the bread from the table and made a lard sandwich, spreading the lardo with a butter knife. I gagged with every bite, but I managed to choke down about half of the plate before finally throwing in the towel. I can only imagine that the wait staff was watching from a window, laughing at the dumb American who thinks that lard is something anybody ever consumed on purpose, much less ordered from a restaurant.
Adding insult to injury, it turns out lardo, being a delicacy, was expensive.
The moral of the story is, when it comes to bacon, settle for no substitute! If your bacon is even a little “not”, best to go with the fish from the lake.