Jamón, jamón en todas partes

I have been asked about the food in Spain.  There are indeed many wonderful dishes here like Pisto Machengo (a dish made of tomatoes, onions, eggplant, green and red peppers and olive oil. It is similiar to rataouille and is usually served warm with bread as an appetizer) and Paella (a dish that gets its name from the pan it is cooked in. The base includes rice, saffron and olive oil and from there you can add seafood, chicken, vegetables, beans or anything else you may be craving). But what stands out for me is the ham!!! No I do not eat it, but it is everywhere.

Apparently Spain is the ham capital of the world with a whole ham costing up to $2100.00 and slices of top grade hams costing over $30.00 lb..  Almost every supermarket, restaurant, tapas and cervezeria, alimencationeria (corner store) has a pig leg hanging in it.  There is even a “Jamón Museo” on Grand Via (a main drag in Madrid Centro).  Spaniards become very offended when you do not like their ham and will insist you “just have not had the right one” and will offer to take you to where you can try “real, authentic” Spanish ham.  Additionally, even things that normally in the states are made with beef (like meatballs) will have a ham mixture.  There is no such thing as turkey or beef bacon (I was looked at with great suspicion when I asked for some).

There are some who have told me this preoccupation with all things pork is not just purely gastronomical.  There may be a dark side to this.  I have heard stories, told in quiet whispers, that part of this fascination with pigs is to ward off other none pork eating religions such as Judiasm and Islam.  Jews were forced to convert or leave Spain during the Spanish inquisition.  A test of that conversion was to eat meals made from pork.  Additionally, I am told that the hanging pig legs serve as a sort of talisman to protect Spain from the Muslims who ruled the country for over 700 years.  There is concern that immigration from North Africa (particularly Morocco) is bringing a challenge to the Catholic Church, which serves as an arm of the Spanish government (the government subsidizes Catholic private schools and most charitable work in Spain is done through the Catholic Church with tax dollars).

But, back to food.  It would be hard to be a vegetarian in Spain as even dishes without meat may be cooked in the grease from a pig.  There is good seafood, but it is very expensive in comparison to what you would pay in the States.  Fruits and vegetables are very fresh with numerous small stores selling frutas y verduras.  Also, chocolate is available in numerous forms including a hot chocolate “drink” that is more like chocolate pudding.

Keep your questions coming

Published in: on February 18, 2010 at 5:10 pm  Leave a Comment