Pig ear sandwich: An iconic dish of the American South

This soul-food delicacy that was once about struggle and survival has been transformed into a thing of comfort.


By Simon Urwin, BBC

2 July 2020


“The ears give you lots of juiciness and tasty pork flavours all at the same time,” said cook Lavette Mack as she stirred a simmering pot on the stovetop. “Add a little crunch with some slaw, give it a kick with some homemade hot sauce, put it all together in a bun and you’ve got yourself something really special."


It’s mid-morning and there’s already a small queue forming at the counter of the Big Apple Inn, a much-loved soul food joint in the Farish Street neighbourhood of Jackson, Mississippi. “I’ll take six please,” said one customer in the colourful twang of the Deep South. “Give me two to have in, honey,” said another. Mack, who’s been working in the kitchen for more than 20 years, duly slices, spreads and stacks fresh batches of what’s become the most famous dish on the Big Apple’s menu: their pig ear sandwich.


“For some folk, they may be a novelty, a curiosity,” said Geno Lee, the current owner and great-grandson of the restaurant’s original founder. “But pigs’ ears are an important part of African American cuisine. They’re what we call peasant food; a part of the animal that historically even the poorest could afford. And that’s something the Inn has always stood for since it opened. Making sure everyone gets fed.”


The Big Apple story begins almost 100 years ago when Lee’s great-grandfather, Juan “Big John” Mora first arrived in Mississippi from Mexico in the early 1930s. “He jumped off the train in Jackson and stayed. He was never legal here,” said Lee. “Like many immigrants he got to work straight away, seeing how he could turn a dime.”


Big John built his own food cart, and using an old family recipe, began making and peddling hot tamales on street corners. By 1939 he’d saved enough money to purchase an old grocery store that he set about transforming into a restaurant...


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