Marko Stefanovic, a third-generation operator of Muncan Food Corporation (4309 Broadway, 718-278-8847), greets incoming customers in Hungarian and Serbo-Croatian while discussing the nearly twenty types of bacon his store produces. A cornucopia of smoked ribs, short brown sausages, long thin sausages, ham hocks, and salamis hang from the ceiling, and the air inside is thick with the smell of smoky meat.
At the counter, a customer is finishing up his order, “…and let me get some more hunter sausage.” Made of coarsely ground meat, hunter’s sausage (lovacka) is named for the way it was originally made — by hunters out in the field, quickly chopping freshly killed meat and stuffing it into natural casings. Textured and spicy with the addition of paprika and cayenne, the sausage sits just above some piept ardelanesc, a traditional Romanian bacon similar to pancetta, with a balanced perfection of meat to fat.
A few feet to the left, there’s more bacon; one is a crusted slab known as “white bacon” or slana. Pure fatback (all fat, no meat), it’s heavily salted and smoked (the store advises that the salt should be washed off before eating). You wouldn’t typically describe bacon as “delicate,” but this diaphanous specialty is just that, more akin to the buttery richness of fresh sea urchin than something on a BLT.
Muncan Food Corp. was opened in 1978 by brothers Tima and Jonel Muncan, immigrants from the former Republic of Yugoslavia. The shop has been in the same location, on a relatively quiet stretch of Broadway in Astoria, ever since. Arriving in this country as skilled butchers, both of the brothers worked at meat shops around town before hearing that the store was for sale. The Muncans started out serving mostly fresh cuts of meat, but they started adding items over the years, as locals immigrants requested specialty foods from their respective Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian homelands. Today, Muncan produces over 200 different items. “It’s not a specialty store for many of our customers,” Stefanovic tells the Voice. “It’s what they know and what they feel comfortable with, even though [home] is thousands of miles away.”
Stefanovic has an encyclopedic knowledge of all the products, whether dried, cured, or smoked. He can quickly tell you how each item is prepared, from their prosciutto (aged 10 months, smoked for 72 hours) to their homemade sausages, which either go through a relatively quick hot-smoking process or a cold smoking to simply impart flavor.
One item that keeps many customers coming back: Muncan’s pork cracklings and rinds. Made fresh throughout the day, the pieces of pork are fried in lardo and served in two ways — as pure, crisp skin rind and as their house specialty, the pork cracklings, which contain chunks of meat and fat along with the skin. Served in a white lunch bag and surely one of the best things to eat ever, the cracklings taste like the end of a great piece of bacon, where the fat has crisped to perfection. Customers from many countries come here for them, calling them jumari if Romanian and teperto if Hungarian.
In addition to fried pork, Muncan quite possibly stocks the largest (and finest) selection of prosciutto found anywhere. From their own homemade traditional version, their duck prosciutto — with the sweetness of the duck coming front and center — to a selection of imported varieties, it’s enough to make vegetarians jealous, and the rest of us jump for joy.
If prosciutto isn’t your thing, Muncan brings the real heat when it comes to pastrami; they don’t just do beef and pork pastrami, they showcase more exotic types like duck and even a goose pastrami. That’s right — goose pastrami. And once again, all are made by Muncan at their warehouse, which is just next to their second location in Ridgewood, Queens.
The best way to go about a visit to Muncan is to pop in and act curious. The convivial butchers will be more than happy to give you a lesson, and they tend to have a heavy hand with the samples. If you can’t make it to Queens, give them a call to mail-order — Muncan will ship many of their products.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 3, 2015