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Misadventures With Ham

October 26, 2011

I’d like to preface this by saying that we did much better eating standard meals today, and in fact just returned from a restaurant who specializes in many different sorts of snails: snails in the mother in law style, snails in the style of grandfather, etc. Not that this is standard, but it was fun!

We cannot figure out how to eat at normal times here (in Spain) which is compounded by the fact that no one eats at normal times here.

If you arrive for dinner before 9, you are too early.

If you arrive for dinner past 10:15, in the small city we were staying in (until we arrived in Barcelona today), you are too late.

Consequently, last night we were at a strange little outpost called Cafe Viena, which is sort of an unpleasant chain, just to get a little more eating in before bed.

On the “card” (menu) we were given to read in English, there were pictures of a ham sandwich in many different formats. Matthew was looking for a toasted Spanish ham and cheese — known locally as a Bikini sandwich, except for that is made with “York” ham, also known as “sweet ham,” as known as just plain old “ham ham” to you and I.

But Matthew wanted a Spanish ham sandwich. He’d tried to order one for lunch and had failed in the following way:

The woman at a bar we’d wandered into requesting lunch had brought me a tuna sandwich. As a pregnant person I am not allowed to eat ham, you see. I am also supposed to severely limit my tuna, but if you are in Spain and limiting your ham intake to nil, you will be upping your tuna intake by many thousands of percents. When I ordered my tuna sandwich, Matthew had asked for a ham sandwich.

What happened next was worthy of the surrealist castle we were visiting: in front of Matthew appeared a sandwich with both ham AND tuna. He was confused and upset, as any rational person presented with such a sandwich would be, and I cannot imagine that the woman who’d made it for him wasn’t also rather confused and upset.

There were a bunch of stray Spanish cats walking around, though, and I couldn’t help but think about how happy they would be at the idea of a ham AND tuna sandwich. (“Ham and tuna; hold the bread.”) Perhaps it was the cats who whispered into the ear of the sandwich maker.

Anyhow for our evening meal, at Cafe Viena, many hours later, we examined the “card” that was written in English to make our choices. Matthew pointed out  what looked like a piece of clip art of a ham on baguette sandwich with a notation that said  “CITED BY THE NEW YORK TIMES AS THE BEST SANDWICH IN THE WORLD.” And we laughed, and thought that someone at the Times had once had good things to say about a sandwich with Spanish ham on it, and that Cafe Viena, a strange and antiseptic chain, had misappropriated the quote to apply to one of their own products.

There is no fooling us.

Then Matthew ordered his bastardized version of the Bikini, and while we waited for our food to appear I saw a plaque on the wall immortalizing an article from the New York Times wherein Mark Bittman chronicled a trip where he came to Spain and ate at Cafe Viena chain and decided that this one version of the sandwich was the best in the world, owing to the fact that is has ham that costs $78 a pound on it, and yet the sandwich retails for 4 euros, or somesuch.

Bittman also talked about how uninspired the sandwich Serbian meatball sandwich I had selected for myself would be. As I was ordering it, Matthew checked to be sure it was hot, to help me avoid all of the confusing foodborne illnesses pregnant women are warned about. “Es caldo?” he asked.

“Caliente?” the man at the counter countered. “Si.”

Back at the table, Matthew consulted a book and realized that every time he set out to ask if something was hot, which was a number of times a day, he was actually asking if it was broth.

And then he opened his sandwich and it was full of sweet ham, rather than Spanish ham.

No tuna, though. No broth.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Liz Kirkpatrick permalink
    October 27, 2011 3:25 am

    But ham aside, aren’t you having fun!!

  2. Michelle permalink
    October 27, 2011 4:52 am

    You poor hamless devils. I mean, the-right-hamless devils. Plus, what was Mark Bittman thinking? Hope Barcelona offers a more international, comprehensible, and comprehending restaurant experience.

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