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Sunday, October 17, 2010

I, Pork Smuggler


Those who know me know I generally don't "dig on swine" - like Jules in Pulp Fiction, not for any religious reason, but mostly just because literally went cold turkey and stopped eating most red meat long ago just because I think it's healthier. I'm not totally strict about it, like any good sushitarian can tell you, there are always exceptions.

There are only two times I really eat pork:

  1. When I am in China.   Well, I've only been to China once, but I quickly learned that ordering "Chinese Broccoli" really means "Chinese Broccoli with Pork."  They put pork in everything.  Tell them you don't eat pork and that's like telling them you don't eat rice.   They look at you like they have three heads.  Plus, those BBQ pork buns are just so tasty.
    pork and peppers
    pork and peppers


  2. When I am in Spain.  I go to Spain a lot more than I go China.  Usually once per year.  In Spain, you can easily avoid eating pork, but you would sure wonder what you are missing.  Especially in Madrid.  That's because madrileños sure do like their jamón.  They even have this chain restaurant pretty much everywhere in central Madrid called Museo de Jamón (Museum of Ham, pictured below) where you stand, eat a ham sandwich and drink a what they call a caña of beer.
    el museo de jamon
    Museo de Jamón
Back to the story at hand.   Appetizers before a main meal in Madrid usually consist of a plate of shaved cured ham.  There are many many varieties of it, but the biggest delicacy, and also the most expensive is the ham the Spaniards call "Jamón Ibérico" or Pata Negra, which means "black leg," because the pigs apparently have black legs.

It gets better.  The best of the best Jamón Ibérico is called "Jamón Ibérico de Bellota" which essentially means Iberian Ham from Acorns.  As the Spaniards romantically tell it, these black leg pigs apparently only live in the Southwest of Spain and Southeast Portugal and they live there because they only eat the acorns from this special tree that only grows in the Southwest of Spain and Southeast Portugal.  (Actually, they totally leave out the fact that they have these pigs in Portugal as well, and I'm sure if it ever were brought up, the ones in Spain are somehow better and more exclusive.  So it goes.)

These prima donna (i guess prima doña, in this case) pigs allegedly get an acre of space each to rome around and eat these special acorns.  Anyone who has ever seen a pig before knows that pigs will eat freaking anything, so I'm guessing that's all there are to eat are these acorns.

So said another way, when you are in Spain and your guests serve you some pork from a special pig that only lives in Spain that only dines on an acorn that only grows in Spain, you eat the pig.

To make this even more exclusive, you apparently can't bring this particular pork into the U.S. without a special import license, which is difficult to obtain and comes with the right be be taxed at 100%.

Luckily, they sell tons of this stuff, vacuum packed in a box like at the top of this post at Madrid's Barajas airport.   Seems safe enough.  Surely the stuff in the duty free shop is already packaged for export to the US, no?

I get in line, with the cashier that looks remarkably similar to Penelope Cruz, and I say hello in Spanish.  She greets me back in Spanish and asks for my ticket and passport.  Seeing it's a US passport, she continues to say to me in Spanish that it's prohibited to bring the ham into the US.  I'm about 95% sure I know what she means, but I ask her back if she can sell it to in Spanish, and then if she speaks English, just so I am sure I understand.

The Penelope Cruz cashier looks at me with a sigh and says, sounding just like Penelope Cruz speaking English, "Excuse my English.  All I can say is that this is prohibited to bring into the US.   If you put it in your bag and it gets taken away, it is not our fault. Es prohibido."

"Claro.  I understand."

I make it a point to bring back Jamón Ibérico whenever I fly home through Madrid.   Nevermind that I can buy it not at Binny's liquor store a half mile from my house.   That's no fun.   It's much more fun being an international pork smugger.
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