what: Chicharrón preparado
where: Manny’s, 1228 Augusta Rd., West Columbia
This Mexican street food staple, with roots in Spain, can be found all over Latin America. Often chicharrón means deep fried pork skin, but this version calls for chicharrón de harina, a dinner plate-sized deep-fried puffed rectangle made from flour.
The thick and crispy cracker-like base is generously covered with chopped cabbage, creamy fresh sliced avocados, grated cotija cheese and a drizzling of mayo and salsa valentina. For the protein, choose chicken, cueritos (pickled pork rind slices), or half-and-half. The rubbery, vinegary cueritos are an acquired taste, so those with unadventurous palates may want to stick with poultry their first go-round.
There’s so much going on in each bite as you feel the contrast between the bubbly texture of the base, the fresh crunch of the cabbage, and the gelatinous chewiness of the pickled pork. The hit of salt from the powdery cheese also contrasts nicely with the hot sauce and the cooling mayo.
You really can’t go to Manny’s without also sipping on one of their creamy shaved ice coladas, so pair one with your chicharrón preparado. I have a long-standing daydream about their tamarind coconut one. Manny’s is open Tuesday to Friday from noon to 9 p.m. and on weekends from 11 a.m.–9 p.m. — Mike Dojc