It's hard to boil down an amazing experience into just a few words. And that's one of the reasons I haven't written anything about our two week vacation to Spain and Portugal this past summer. But if I have to sum it up, I'd have two words for you: Jamón Ibérico. I had heard a lot about this cured ham, made from Black Iberian pigs that are fed natural diets of acorns and grass, but I hadn't ever actually tried it before going to Spain. That's for two reasons. First of all, I'm still pretty squeamish about eating meat, especially when it comes from *cute* animals. And even though I do have a sometimes weakness for bacon, I consider pigs to be super cute. And second, Jamón Ibérico only recently came to be available in the US (it was illegal until 2007) and even so, if you want it, be ready to shell out upwards of $200/pound.
I really wanted to enjoy the experience of Spanish and Portuguese cuisine; and in Spain, jámon is basically part of every meal. So before we left, I made a decision to embrace that and eat what was recommended wherever we went. And lo and behold, one of the first things that appeared in front of me when we landed in Spain were some super-thin, smoky slices of Jamón Ibérico. And I loved every melt-in-your-mouth, salty bite. Jamón Ibérico works well on its own, but is also very tasty with some slices of Manchego and a nice crusty bread. Pair it with a red wine or sherry and you've got a great little lunch. I wouldn't recommend running out and spending $200 on your jamón and cheese sandwich, but there are lots of related cured ham alternatives, like Jamón Serrano, which is cheaper and very similar in flavor.
Other highlights of our trip. As soon as we touched down in Madrid, we headed to a local cafe for a breakfast of tortilla española, a simple, but rich Spanish omelette, made with cream and potatoes. In Sevilla, every restaurant was guaranteed to have a juicer handy so you could order fresh-squeezed orange juice made from those famous Seville oranges.
I especially liked all the bright colors of Sevilla, and these candied limes really captured it for me. I didn't get to try them, but they were gorgeous in the café window.
In Jerez de la Frontera, where sherry is made, we headed to a sherry house to learn about sherry-making (and tasting!). In Cadiz, we tried fried seafood, which is a specialty of the region - check out the gorgeous shrimp cakes.
Portugal had its own list of delicacies, ranging from the famous egg custards made in the Belém neighborhood of Lisbon (seen below). And of course grilled sardines, a Portuguese specialty.
You certainly don't need to run all the way to Europe anymore to get many of these little delicacies. In the Boston area, there's a lovely little Spanish market called Las Ventas, which has everything you need to make your own Spanish tapas at home; or you can get a bocadillo (traditional Spanish sandwich) to go. Formaggio Kitchen also has many of the ingredients you'll need to bring a little bit of Spain and Portugal home. I for one can't wait to go back.