This should surprise exactly zero people: I argue with other people. Especially about food. ESPECIALLY about food – I will defend my opinion to the day I die. I also dislike when people say anything is ‘the best’ because quite honestly, it isn’t. Nothing ever is; there is no absolute best anything, in my opinion, because that’s all it is: opinion. Opinions make the world interesting, but there’s no possible way any one person has had every single version of something, every option possible, every combination, and determined that this one item is the best and everyone who ever eats it will agree. It’s just not possible. It could be your favorite, but not THE BEST EVER.
Okay, enough. My point is: Jeffrey said the five spice glazed pork belly at Num Pang was balls to the wall amazeballs. Or something, I’m paraphrasing. I said I’d had it before and didn’t think it was all that and a bag of chips. But that was well over 4 years ago, and he urged me to give it another try. When I found myself a few blocks from the Midtown East location on Sunday, I sucked it up and popped in for a sandwich. $8.50, plus tax so $9.25 is what I forked over for the above. Right after I ordered, a couple of hipsters entered and ordered a range of sandwiches as well. One of the guys got his sandwich 30 seconds after I did, and while I was opening mine up to take pictures, he opened his up to take a look and said “Whoa, that’s like a whole slab in there!”
and I blurted out “a whole slab of awesome” because I could clearly see a thick slice of pork belly in my sandwich. Win.
So far, so good.
I strangely failed to photograph a picture of the sandwich whole and intact, but whatever. If seeing pictures of food I’ve bitten into offends you, you should stop reading now or turn off pictures or something.
Biting into the sandwich was a good start; the bread was lightly toasted, but easily broken into with my teeth, causing no injury nor inciting a fear of injury either. (Have you ever had a sandwich with bread so hard you’re afraid it’s going to cut your gums? If not, well, don’t. It’s a terrible way to eat a sandwich – fearing for your gums.)
Going further into the sandwich, the chili mayo brought a slight heat to the party. It built as I ate the sandwich, but wasn’t terrible. But for the supremely spice adverse – this is too spicy for you. For a spicy weenie like me, it reached my threshold just at the end of the sandwich. Then there were two thinly sliced pickled cucumbers, a bit of cilantro that I really wished was more, and a tangled mess of shredded carrot.
Then the pork belly; meaty, fatty, succulent. Offering much in the way of flavor, but nothing in terms of texture – it was soft, of course – this sandwich was so close.
So very close to having me scream its name and declare Jeffrey right about this being the best sandwich ever.
Literally, I was on the edge of pure sandwich ecstasy, sweating a little from the heat, feeling the fattiness coat my tongue, pressing the not-too-hard-but-just-hard-enough bread into my mouth… when I realized what I was missing.
Sufficient crunch. The sandwich, once you get beyond the crust of the bread, is extremely soft. Thicker slices of cucumber, perhaps? Maybe some pork rinds – or is that gilding the lily here? I wanted something crunchier, something to fight against the softness of the center of the sandwich (how’s that for alliteration?), something to remind me that I’m alive, that I can feel, and how glorious this sandwich feels in my mouth.
This sandwich, happily, deserves high praise, and doesn’t deserve the crap-dropping I gave it when I first had it. (I’m not sure if they changed the execution or if I had a bad one in 2009. I just know that I was really angry about how it tasted in 2009.) It’s a delicious sandwich, very good by all rights and hits lots of high notes on its journey through my mouth.
But what would truly elevate it from “delicious” and “excellent” to “all time best ever omfg give me another one right now” – like my beloved Roli Roti sandwich, which hits every note I want it to, and then some. (Though that post is from 2010, I literally have at least 1 Roli Roti every time I am in SF – which is more often than you might realize. Sometimes I have 2.)
So, I’m a little sad to say, this sandwich brought me so close – so very, very close – and then left me hanging, wanting just that little bit more to get me there – sigh. So close to total sandwich satisfaction. Sooo close.
I guess I just need another trip to SF to finish the job that Num Pang started.
I just looked up the menu and discovered that there was supposed to be pickled Asian pear on my sandwich. While I don’t know that would have added enough crunch, ummm, look at my pics and tell me you see some sort of fruit on there. Nada. What the eff?! Now I’m left even more dissatisfied, craving something more. Sweetness would have been nice in there, too! FAIL.