After a visit to Madrid and after sampling this world-famous ham, you find yourself continually asking how can something so simple, be so good? How can a piece of bread, a little cheese, or a slice of ham all be this good? The mantra in Spain, above all else, seemingly tells us to “respect the simple things”. It’s a way of life, a golden rule, and no other product embodies this less-is-more philosophy than the king of all cured meats, jamón ibérico.
Even if you’ve been to Madrid for less than a day you’ve noticed the unabashed ham worship that takes place throughout the city. You’ve stopped to gaze at hanging hams in the shop windows or supermarket aisles, even raised your glass or bowed ever so slightly to the pantheon of ham dangling in the local bar.
It only seems fair (at least for the pig) to point out that all that hanging ham actually has some historical relevance. You see, during the long periods of tumultous religous turmoil and even Jewish persecution in Spain, the people of Jewish faith were not well received and as such, locals would go out of their way to make it perfectly clear that they were in fact, not jewish. Shop owners and restaurants felt one way to literally show their opposition to the Jewish faith was to place ham legs in the windows, as if posting a sign which read: “We Eat Ham, No Jews Here!”
On a more practical note, the ham is hung in this way to ensure the greese and fat are, with a little help from gravity, pulled slowly down and out of the ham and into those small white plastic cups you’ll find inserted at the bottom of the ham leg. Mmm…yummy!
Now in Madrid you can find this ham in varying degrees of quality at local supermarkets, bars, restaurants, and specialty shops throughout the city. Or of course you could always venture straight to the source in search of the finest little piggies: Salamanca or Extremedura, Spain.
When shopping or sampling, note that the ham is often labeled with regard to the pig’s diet and geographic location: so a jamón ibérico de bellota d.o dehesa de extremadura is known as one of the finest available and indicates the pig grazed on bellota or fallen acorns while roaming through a grassy forest in the Western region and countryside of Spain. When you are ready to purchase (feel free to ask for a sample) then pick an amount which fits your budget and luggage situation. You’ll be ordering in grams, so 600 grams of sliced ham is roughly 1.32 pounds and will cost about €20.
Just remember if you do visit Madrid and forgo this delicacy you’ve done something very wrong, essentially committing travel treason and lining yourself up for years of ridicule and self-inflicted arse kicking. It would be the same to have stood beneath the Eiffel tower and forgotten to snap a photo, to have visited Venice and inexplicably never laid eyes on a canal. In other words if you don’t at least nibble a piece of jamón ibérico…you really messed it up.
So that being said, here are 5 places in Madrid where you can sample and purchase jamón ibérico:
Don Jamon – a ham store and restaurant with high quality offerings: with each drink order you’ll receive a small tapa on the house. Near metro Callao. Calle Gran Via, 60. 28013 Madrid, Spain
Alma de Julian Becerro – a specialty ham and gourmet food shop located on the lively Cava Baja street. Near metro La Latina. Cava Baja, 41. 28005 Madrid, Spain http://www.julianbecerro.com/
Mercado de San Miguel – the famous market and foodie paradise has high prices but quality is never a question. Near metro Sol. Plaza de San Miguel, 28005 Madrid, Spain. http://www.mercadodesanmiguel.es/
Mercado San Anton – a posh market spread out onto 3 levels, including nice restaurants and a full bar and terrace lounge on the top floor. Near metro Chueca. Calle de Augusto Figueroa, 24. 28004 Madrid, Spain. http://www.mercadosananton.com/
Museo del Jamon – this famously budget-friendly chain has several locations throughout the center. The best quality and experience can be found at their location near Goya. There are also locations on Gran Via and on Calle Mayor. Near metro Goya. Calle de Alcalá, 155. 28009 Madrid, Spain. http://www.museodeljamon.es/
Note: Check all regulations and laws regarding the transport of gifts, products, meats, and souvenirs when traveling. In several countries including the United States, transporting meat and produce is prohibited. If you do plan on transporting ham, ask for the vacuum sealed packets. And pack well.