Wednesday, December 24, 2014

From Alaska to Cuba, our huge Christmas dinner will be global

A butterflied whole roasted pig at La Pola in West New York, a Cuban-sandwich shop that is a magnet for pork lovers at the holidays, below. A whole pig is $300.

Belarmino Rico named his shop after La Pola, the town in Spain where he was born. Few would argue with his claim that he is "The King of the Cuban Sandwich," which he learned to make in Havana after emigrating to Cuba.


I've lost count of how many courses we are planning for our Christmas dinner.

We've been gathering food since Monday, and this afternoon, my wife went to the ShopRite in Paramus for four live lobsters ($8.99 a pound).

Meanwhile, I brought home more than a pound of fresh spinach, which we plan to cook with extra-virgin olive and garlic.

Earlier, my wife visited a family friend who prepared five whole fish for our dinner on Thursday.

They will join king crab legs from Alaska ($17.99 a pound at Costco Wholesale in Hackensack), and Cuban-style roast pork with all the trimmings from La Pola in West New York.

The tip jar at La Pola.

Tortilla Espanola is a Spanish potato omelet.

A tray of steaming Cuban tamales.

We join the pork pilgrimage 

Every year on the day before Christmas, hundreds of Cuban-Americans and lovers of their garlic-rich cooking make the pilgrimage to La Pola, a Cuban-sandwich shop at 54th Street and Palisade Avenue in West New York.

Proprietor Belarmino Rico -- with the help of sons Tony and Joe, his wife and his loyal employees -- does a 24-hour marathon of preparing roast pork and side dishes for customers who stream into the small shop to pick up what they pre-ordered.

The day before Christmas is the busiest, but Rico also prepares Cuban holiday dishes for Thanksgiving and the new year.

This morning, my son joined me for the drive to La Pola, where he had a crispy Cuban sandwich and I sipped cafe con leche as I caught up with the Ricos.

We took home a roasted pork leg, a small Tortilla Espanola, a tray of Yuca with Garlic and another of Aroz Morro or congris, which is white rice cooked with black beans.

A couple of bags of Plantain Chips and a small plate of Chicharones or fried pork rinds completed our order.

Yuca with garlic is true comfort food.

The classic Cuban Black Beans.

A glazed ham.

The Ricos and their employees work tirelessly to fill Christmas orders.

Today, Belarmino Rico, center, waited on a steady stream of customers who had pre-ordered roast pork and side dishes for Christmas.
All of the legs, shoulders and whole pigs are roasted in a pizza oven, above.

La Pola's Cuban Sandwich ($7) is prepared in a heated press or plancha: The classic ingredients are roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles.

Joe Rico.

The six provinces of Cuba, above, and the Spanish flag, below, are painted on La Pola's plate-glass windows.

If you missed ordering roast pork for Christmas, La Pola will be taking orders for New Year's Eve.

La Pola, 5400 Palisade Ave., West New York; 1-201-867-6028. Closed Christmas Day. Closed Sundays. Cash only.

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