Spanish Chronicles: Jamón Jamón

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No, it’s not just the 1992 film with sizzling Spanish couple Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz. It’s thin slices of delicateness tucked neatly within the embrace of a golden, crispy loaf of bread, fanned out across a plate on every other table in tapas bars, wrapped with a bow in your most prized Christmas baskets.

In Spain, it is not just ham, it is a way of life.

Legs in "Panty Hose" - Museo del Jamón
Legs in “Panty Hose” – Museo del Jamón

Legs here, legs there, legs everywhere!

Never had I seen so many legs – hanging on the wall, above the bar, from the ceiling – some naked, some clothed colorfully, others fashioned in “panty hoses” – all pigs’ legs. Anthony Bourdain has after all  once described jamón as being “pornographically delicious“.

Even the name jamón – pronounced like a whispering roar from your throat : “harrrr-mon“, sounds sexy!

If you are ever in Madrid, and are up for a visual as well as a literal feast of the “sexy legs“, make a quick visit to Museo del Jamón. Now Prado, Bosco and Goya can wait, for this is a museum of ham, for crying out loud! – also a chain resto where a lot of the older locals gather to grab a drink and a “bocadillo de jamón” (bread with jamón)  for no more than 2 to 3 euros.

This “museum” features a eat-in section, a bar and also a deli shop, where butchers are ready to cut fresh slices of jamón for you. Lunch hour – 2pm to 4pm – the bar is packed, bustling waves of chits chats and loud crunches of bread and jamón being devoured, vibrate along the walls of ‘legs’. 

(There are plenty more local and small tapas bars with great jamón, at times, free with a drink. Do discover more at Tapas Talk)

Museo del Jamón - in central Madrid
Museo del Jamón – in central Madrid

Jamón: Gourmand or Gourmet? 

The dried, cured legs of ham may be generally renowned worldwide as Spanish ham, but there are a range of different types of Jamón, categorized mainly by the type of pig and also how long the legs are cured for. The two most popular are:

– Jamón Serrano: the every-day GOURMAND cheaper ham, made from Landrace white pig breeds and cured for shorter amounts of time (with the shortest still around 9 months)

– Jamón Ibérico de Bellota: the famous GOURMET expensive ham, made from Iberian black leg (pata negra) pigs.

Why are these black pigs so special, you ask?

+   Well, for starters, each pig is reserved 2 acres of land (London renters, be envious!) for ample free-ranging.
+ They are raised only in unique old-growth oak forest areas of Western Spain
+ They have a special diet of bellotas (acorns), herbs, wild mushrooms and grasses
+ Each pig’s leg is cured for a minimum 2 years before going onto the market

These factors make this type of ham rare and the most expensive in the world, with a 7-kg leg retailing for as much as 1,800 GBP (!!!)

A countryside butchers’

Akin to the differences between a smartly-dressed, chic urbaner and a simple chap from the countryside, the “legs” in the village of Candelario bear a stark simplicity and barrenness in comparison with its well-clothed, Museo del Jamón counterpart.

A step inside this building, and the whiff of cured ham, slams itself up your nostrils and you find yourself in a daze, before making out the hundreds of legs hung one row on top another. The building itself is uniquely designed to feature few, strategically-placed windows to ensure the best curing conditions.

But it is here, where black pigs are brought in and cured for years at a time, the oldest leg possibly in its 16th or 17th year. The taste of a 2-year leg, in all of its chewiness and savoriness, contrasts its bare and greasy appearance.

Bare and Simple - Candellario Jamón de Bellota
Bare and Simple – Candelario Jamón de Bellota

A short ride from Bejar (more than 130 miles NW of Madrid) – where my host family is from, Juan Garcia Gomez butchery might not be from the most famous of jamón regions in Spain, but it certainly was the closest I got to tasting gourmet jamón  – a pack of 12 slices cost 12 Euros (and that’s only the 2-year cured ones)

But I must say, at this very shop, I discovered that I loved Lomo (another type of cured ham) with its subtle blend of chewiness and fat much more than I do Jamón, which I found to be quite intense and gamey on the palate. But of course, it is for each to taste and each to judge…a “tiny” fan of beer, I think I haven’t done the ham justice, in not accompanying it with a pint or two.

Porky Pride

21 million. That’s the number of kilos of Jamón the Spanish consumed in 2009. If my two-week journey proved anything, it was that this dried, cured ham was everywhere, a culinary giant in whom many Spaniards take great pride. 

There was even a national television campaign promoting different qualities and price ranges of jamón in Spain – with the motto: “There is a ham for everyone

 Jamón slicing (here’s a slicer in my late blog on Borough Marketis a profession in many parts of the world and a very well-paid one to boot.

This is not to say that all Spaniards are madly in love with it. Take Elisa – my  Madrileña friend for instance, she hates jamón with a passion.
Enjoy some more pics of Museo del Jamón and the butchers in Candelario!

Butchers in Candellario
Butchers in Candellario
Lomo - Love this more than Jamón!
Lomo – Love this more than Jamón!
Inside Juan Garcia Gomez Butcher's
Inside Juan Garcia Gomez Butcher’s

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The deli shop in Museo del Jamón
The deli shop in Museo del Jamón
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CULINARY SNIPPETS: Sâm Bổ Lượng Dessert Cart- Saigon

My mind turns to the refreshing delights of my days in Saigon…and how I thirst for just a sip of that goodiness right now.

Now, you may have heard of or be like me, have many times over, in your life, turned into an utter fool for “Chè”, not the tea, but the dessert. It could be anything from well-cooked green beans soaked in sugar to a blend of syrup-drowned fruits, nuts and jelly,served either hot or iced. The topic of this much loved dessert would take countless days to cover, since it could be practically any number of combinations of sugar-related dishes in Vietnam.

Sam Bo Luong – this combination does not include all the available ingredients
The Sam Bo Luong Cart on Nguyen Thai Binh Str, Dist1

In Saigon, however, amidst the culinary adventure on which I and my palate fully and ever so often engage and yet fail to fully report on, I discover a genre of ‘chè’  known as ‘sâm bổ lượng”  – Pardon my Vietnamese, linguists out there, but my rough understanding after enjoying this once or twice, is that it’s a ginseng drink that is absolutely scrumptious and healthy, and it gives you a boost on metabolism.

No, it’s not “Redbull” in disguise. From my conversation with the vendor who happens to be of Chinese ancestry, this type of dessert is a Chinese treat brought to the southern metropolis by communities moving southward to settle. Beyond simply cooking different types of fruits and jelly, and letting it candy up and soak in sugar syrup in the case of many types of typical Vietnamese “Chè”, this ginseng refreshment uses ingredients that would be more known to Vietnamese people in a mixture of Chinese traditional medicine such as: ginseng, dried seaweed, ginko nuts pearl  barley, dried dates, dried longans…etc (Below is a sample of some ingredients) .

This makes it all sound so healthy…and my so far-done research of this drink is way too scattered to affirm this…yet my palate and I will attest, the ginseng flavored syrupy broth, coupled with the subtle differences in texture and taste of the ingredients involved, makes this drink definitely a worthwhile delight to try out. I find that it doesn’t have the ‘heaviness’ or ‘overwhelming sugary’ feel of some other types of Chè that includes further extraction of the fruits and beans into the broth. In contrast, it’s light, only slightly sweet, savory in texture, and refreshing in taste. It’d become nothing short of a culinary enigma if I attempt to describe any more.

Some ingredients (*Courtesy of Food For Four)

But, if you ever head over to district 1 in HCMC, a block or two away from Ben Thanh Market, down to Nguyen Thai Binh street during late night….it’s completely deserted, with the exception of this cart. It’s a very eye-catching cart indeed…plastered with what I see as stained-glass paintings (I could be completely off)…

These carts, the owner, in his 50s and a 3rd generation Chinese expat, says are typical for vending desserts and other goodies back in the heyday of the “Cho Lon” – Chinese-populated era of Saigon. His cart dates back to the 1930s, I believe and his family has been in the business since he can barely remember. After the passing of his wife, my friend shares, he had been fully dedicated to perfecting the trade, all from the comforts of this cute little cart, amidst the bustling chaos that is Saigon life.

He’s a journalism story in the making and I have plans to learn more about this man and his cart, of which I’ll share, and yet I digress, as this post is about FOOD…Anyhoo, it’s roughly around 175 Nguyen Thai Binh I think, a cart with aluminum cylinders of brewed delights ready to be mixed in with a range of different ginseng and sugar syrup. I’ve only had the drink several times, not nearly quite enough,  but what I can definitely notice is the clarity and lightness of the broth here compared to the place I tried in District 5 – Chinatown. How I would fly to Saigon just for a glass right now…!!!

PS: updates will be given to fill apparently huge gaps in the knowledge that I have about this delight. From what I know, Sam Bo Luong is but one…as this cart alone features many other types of ‘che” known through names that I fail to register in my head…ones that even include full eggs boiled in sugar (sounds weird yet enticing). For now, just take it from me that Sam Bo Luong is amazingly the best summer refreshment I’ve enjoyed so far, and you should go try it! Enjoy!

HanoianSnippets introduces 3 new Feature Categories!

Hanoian Snippets introduces 3 new Feature Categories

Hello lovely readers of Hanoian Snippets!

One of the perks of having an external harddrive, other than it being the box to store your entire life, is that you will one day plug it in, and just sit hours lost in your own memories, photos of what seem ages ago and moments that you deep down inside wish you can somehow revisit. Anyhoo, I opened mine today, it’s a 2T one so let’s just say it does have at least a good 15 years of my life in there, pictures, videos, documents.

And sooo! As a way to revamp my blog, revisit my journeys, and revitalize myself (and get good grades for my blog component in school (haha!) and hopefully entertain you, while I’m at it), I’m introducing 3 dedicated new Feature Categories. Apart from my posts of current happenings here in the London/UK life,  I will strive to have a post a week:

1. CULINARY SNIPPETS: Delectable, scrumptious, beautiful and at times wacky culinary delights which I have encountered, nose-pressed-on-windows to stare at, devoured mercilessly, or even…gotten sick on and captured!

2. ON THE ROAD: The excitement, the culture shock, the unforgettable people, the trials and tribunes, the woes – the JOURNEYS!

3. PHOTO JOURNEY: Snapshots, moments, flickers! One or a series in photo-essay style – Telling the story with a lens, and less words perhaps 🙂

I hope these categories will paint new shades onto my blog and I thank you for your continued support and feedback!

Much love,

Hanoian Snippets!