In the world of ham, you can’t beat a bit of good old acorn fed Jamon Iberico…
I’m always getting a friendly reminder from La wife every time I lay the table, that in Spain, napkins are not optional. Even after years of reminders, I manage to get cutlery, glasses, plates, and food, but forget the darn napkins/serviettes.
To Marina this is unfathomable. How can a table be considered to be laid without this crucial lip-wiping, lap-saving element in place?
Is this because I’m English, or am I just a slob? Is this napkin obsession a Spanish thing? (And don’t get me started on table clothes… We have drawers full of the things, hand sewn by well-meaning Spanish aunts, and used nearly as much as the pesky matching napkins!)
You just can’t beat fabada, really, you just can’t.
Marina and I are staying up at the in-laws place in the Sierra above Madrid for a few days, where the skies are blue, the air is sweet with the smell of the pines that grow in everyone’s gardens, lizards bask on paving stones, and the summer heat feels just fine in the light, silent breeze.
We wake up with fresh fruit and bird song, and wifi means I can sit writing this from out on an awning-covered terrace, watching those lazy lizards, and the neighbour’s cats that amble self-righteously across the garden. This is the life.
Last night we wandered down to the local bar and sat outside drinking one of the greatest summer beverages ever invented: tinto de verano (literally, ‘summer red’). You take a big glass, full of ice, then pour cheap red wine up to the half-way line, and fill to the top with lemonade. Add a slice of lemon and there you have it, instant, light-headed summer refreshment:
(More on Spanish tapas phrases at Notes in Spanish).
We had lunch in a favourite village bar today up in the sierra an hour above Madrid. The bar has a ‘comedor’ (restaurant section) at the back, with two large rooms, the slightly smaller of which is joined to the larger one by a small flight of steps. To kind of comply with anti-smoking laws put in place a few years back (that state that any bar or restaurant over, I believe, 100 m squared must have a section designated for smokers that doesn’t exceed a third of the total floor space), the slightly smaller room up the steps has been deemed the no-smoking area.
Well, that’s a start, except for the fact that this room is only opened on weekends when there are enough customers to merit opening it up and either heating or air-conditioning the extra space, depending on the time of year.
So, we had lunch surrounded by the local Ducados and cigar-smoking obreros and oldies, while the door to the non-smoking section remained shut. Lovely. We like the place so much that we still go, but try to arrive early before it gets too smoky. We have asked to be let in the non-smoking area in the past, but it didn’t go down well (es que la calefacción no está puesta… … the heating isn’t on… ) so we’ve given up.
Theoretically someone could report the place but it seems unlikely as a) it’s a family run place that has been frequented by the same people for years, and everyone is fond of them, and b) everyone just accepts that this is quite normal and knows nothing would come of reporting them anyway.
How I wish Spain would join France, Spain, Italy, Ireland etc and sort smoking in bars and restaurants out once and for all… Come on Zapatero, get with the program!
So here’s the question: You walk into a Spanish bar wanting a quick, satisfying, base food fix, something more that than the free tapa that comes with your beer. Maybe it’s eleven o’clock and you need a calorie boost, or something to take the edge off your hangover. What’s it to be?
Mine’s a Sandwich Mixto, two grilled slices of slightly oily toast, with cheap ham and cheese in the middle. The Spanish equivalent of a bacon butty. Can’t beat it. What would you order in similar circumstances?
Updates: On the coast this is often called a ‘Bikini’ – see comments. Plus, Chris from Spanish Sauce has the full Sandwich Mixto / Bikini recipe here!
Photo: Vacuum-Packed Jamon Iberico – the single greatest souvenir a returning Spain-traveler can bestow on their loved ones.
– Doesn’t generally taste as good as Jamon Iberico.
– Is likely to choke you to death if you don’t cut it up into small pieces before putting it into your bocadillo (bread roll). I don’t want to go into details but beleive me, if you start swallowing half a 10 inch strip while still chewing the rest… scary… Spanish parents always chop Jamon Serrano up small for their kids for this very reason.
– Is usually machine-sliced and is more likely to be found in cheap bocadillos (which are therefore more likely to choke you!)
– Tastes so much better… alone, with morsels of bread, even with “is-this-nirvana?” jamon, egg and chips.
– Tends to be cut by hand, sliced thinner and in smaller sized pieces, and therefore:
– Is less likely to choke you when:
– Found in more expensive bocadillos.
These are fairly random observations (from someone who recently nearly choked to death on a cheap, train-buffet Jamon Serrano sandwich). But what is the actual physical difference between the two types of ham? I suspect there is an Iberico ham pig and a less refined Serrano ham pig. But within the Iberico pig category there are those with black feet (Pata negra), and others that are only fed on acorns (bellotas) for the last year of their life.
I know that eating pata negra, bellota-fed jamon iberico makes you feel somehow closer to heaven, but if anyone can help clear up the exact differences between Jamon Iberico and Jamon Serrano, I’d be very grateful! Answers/thoughts in the comments please!
There was a healthly (?) discussion on the forum recently about whether or not Spanish food is oily. Quote: “the amount of oil most dishes are served with is mind boggling.” The basic consensus though, was that Spanish food is essentially oily in a good way. I mean, you can’t get enough of that anti-oxidising, extra-vigin, life-restoring olive oil, can you?
Well, my friends, I fear that some may draw the line at the Plato Alpujarreño.
Pictured above, and served up throughout the wonderful mountain range to the south of Granada, this cacophony of meat and not-very-extra-virgin grease slips down a treat. From the top we’ve got Jamon, Chorizo, Morcilla (no rice in this one, just the congealed pigs blood), a good slab of pork chop, the fried egg and, the coup de grasa, the oiliest of all oily potatoes: patatas a lo pobre.
Absolutely spot on after a day in the mountains 8) Would you eat it?
I just noticed the following comment appear on my previous post and thought it was such an extremely accurate and acute observation that it deserved not to be missed. It speaks volumes of the Spanish attitude to both sincerity and their fine national cuisine:
“Fact: If you cook dinner for Spanish friends, they have no problem giving you a detailed critique of the meal when it is finished.
I remember noticing this on the Spanish cooking show, Hoy Cocinas Tú, in which a person learns how to cook a dish and then makes it for family/friends. The dinner guests always offer suggestions as to how the dish could have been improved. I have grown accustomed to this and now I prefer a fair assessment of my food to an insincere compliment.
I usually only prepare foreign dishes for Spanish friends (American or Mexican fare) so that they don’t really know what the dish is supposed to taste like. And yes, I leave out the hot spices. Something that defeats the purpose of many Mexican dishes.
One more thing, you cannot change a single ingredient when making a standard Spanish dish or you will never hear the end of it. I made a tortilla the other night for my girlfriend and her mother. They both looked on in horror as I made it with cheese and onionsâ€”something that just isn’t done here. It was as if I were mixing two highly volatile chemicals like bleach and ammonia. The only way I could get them to try it was to convince them that it was a French dish.”
For more of the same, check out the author’s blog at www.leftbanker.com