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Whole-Roasted Pig Tacos For Free At Carnivale

By Anthony Todd in Food on Jul 1, 2013 7:10PM

Readers, do a free association exercise with me. When you hear the phrase "free bar snacks," what comes to mind? Peanuts, probably. Pretzels, if you're ambitious and allergy-sensitive. Carnivale is taking bar snackx to a whole new level with their whole-roasted pork tacos every Thursday.

If you drive past the restaurant on a Thursday, you might see Chef Rodalfo Cuadros out on the patio fussing with hot coals. If you look closer, you'll see his La Caja China (literally, chinese box), a slow cooker custom made for roasting a whole pig. The Caja China technique actually developed in Cuba, despite the name, and is a way of cooking a pig outdoors at a low temperature for a long, long time.

Each week, a whole pig comes into the restaurant on Monday. The pig is brined for two days in a simple salt/sugar mixture, left to dry overnight, then roasted slowly all day on Thursday. This helps the skin get crispy during cooking. In a bit of a twist, the charcoal actually goes on top of the closed Caja China, making it much easier for the chefs to regulate the fire while also helping to keep the box from getting too hot. The difference between this and a regular oven? The chef can reach in and touch the pork without getting burned, because the heat is low enough.

Originally, Cuadros told us, Cuban chefs would roast pigs underground wrapped in leaves. This evolved into using oil drums with the top cut off—this let them achieve a similar effect without the trouble of digging. The Caja China is the latest version of this technique. He's used it for all sorts of meats, including whole turkeys for Thanksgiving.

When the pig comes out of the box, the meat is literally falling off the bone—so much so that it's a little tricky to get it into the kitchen! Every week, Carnivale features a new preparation of a taco made with the shredded, fresh pork. When we visited, the chef made a mojo from chorizo, fresh cilantro and onions and then added a fresh cabbage slaw onto the top for a savory, multicolored pork taco with a little bit of a spicy kick.

On Thursdays, anyone sitting on the patio gets one of these special tacos for free. In addition, the restaurant runs a beer special and an interesting dinner special to use up the rest of the pig. So if you're a pork lover, make sure to request a patio seat when you visit Carnivale this summer.

Carnivale is at 702 W. Fulton Market.