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Pig pickings 

Indulge your inner carnivore

Gung Hay Fat Choy to everyone, now that we've begun the Chinese Lunar Year 4705. This is the Year of the Pig, which marks the end of the 12-year cycle. Pig years are said to bring closure -- perhaps some cardiothoracic and vascular surgeons would agree. But if you want to indulge, Carolina knows pig.

Go whole hog at Van Loi Chinese and Vietnamese Barbecue -- that quirky little outpost of Asian cuisine on Central Avenue. You can order a flattened pig's face or a Chinese barbecued suckling pig of up to 30 pounds for about $195 per pig, which the manager says will feed about 30 people. The restaurant suggests that if you are serving 100 people, it's better to order 3 suckling pigs rather than one older larger pig. Orders need to be placed at least one week in advance.

Van Loi Chinese and Vietnamese Barbecue, 3101 Central Ave., 704-566-8808.

Native Charlottean and classically French-trained chef Todd Townsend has been delighting crowds of 50 to 5,000 with his Gone Hog Wild BBQ, a division of Townsend's Gourmet Cuisine. He smokes butts and ribs over hickory and uses a Dreamland-like sauce. Dreamland, as true Cue aficionados know, is the killer sauce that originated in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Makes you wanna buy some Sunbeam bread and go dunking.

Looking for that morning pick-me-up? Nothing is better than a baked Chinese barbecue bun. They only cost a buck at Hong Kong BBQ (inside the Asian Corner Mall on the corner of North Tryon Street and Sugar Creek Road). You can buy steamed pork barbecue buns at Dim Sum Chinese Restaurant (2920 Central Ave., 704-569-1128). During the week the buns are two for $2.45, but on Saturdays and Sundays they serve the large ones for the same price.

Owner Kim Xiao makes a mean Moo Shu Pork, which is one of those Americanized Chinese dishes accompanied by hoisin sauce and a convenient pancake wrapper. Moo Shu is derived from the Chinese word for wood shavings, which the thinly sliced vegetables in this dish are supposed to resemble. However, the common usage for Moo Shu was to secure antiques sent in wooden crates -- today's equivalent of bubble wrap.

Coincidentally, now that this is the year of the pig, everybody wants to bring home the bacon. Some of the best to be had is The Grateful Palate, which offers a Bacon of the Month Club featuring 12 artisan bacons, one delivered each month. Members also receive pig paraphernalia, including a ballpoint pig pen, bacon recipes, a bacon comic strip and, new this year, a plastic pig snout. Cost is $140 for one package per month, plus shipping and handling.

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