Spaniards, I’ve noticed, love ham. You can see maroon-colored, smoked legs hanging almost everywhere, from restaurants and street carts to boutique stores at airports and train stations. As someone who doesn’t eat pork, I cannot share the Spaniards’ passion for the meat. Even still, I couldn’t bring myself to eat meat that’s been hanging out in the open, exposed to all kinds of impurities I imagine. I’ve been told, however, that the meat stays preserved because it’s been smoked. Before you eat it, you simply remove the top layer and bite in.
One evening a waiter at a tapas bar tried to convince me that ham in Spain comes from lamb and not pig. Ham, after all, simply refers to the meat of the hamstring, and it could very well belong to any animal. I wasn’t convinced, but he insisted. He pointed to one of the ubiquitous legs of meat hanging inside the restaurant and claimed that it was definitely lamb. He offered to prove it to me, and I followed him inside to take a look at the paper wrapped around the leg. There, in all its swinish glory, was a sketch of a pig. Normally, this would be evidence enough, but the waiter still did not believe and asked another person working at the restaurant who finally set him straight. I wonder if he had been eating the ham all this time thinking that it was lamb?