As a traveling Jew who keeps somewhat kosher, I too often find myself fumbling through my local dictionary to figure out how to say, “I don’t want bacon on my apple”. Now, I’m not the type who really cares how his steak was slaughtered, but I do strictly abide by the ancient, holy laws of “kosher style” (no shellfish and swine for this boy from Palestine but cheeseburger me to death).
Keeping this modicum is especially difficult to abide by in the Spanish speaking world, where being both Jewish and nourished seem mutually exclusive. If my forays into Spain, Argentina, Costa Rica, and Uruguay taught me nothing else, it’s that “meat” means “pork”, that “rice and beans” means “rice and beans and pork”, and that anything off the breakfast menu means a couple of eggs and twelve pounds of pig.
The Latin countries have perfected the art of sneaking in some kind of cud-chewing animal appendage into your every meal, snack, and drink. Go anywhere near a sandwich shop or pizza place in Latin America and you’re certain to find some sort of pork bread, bacon crust, or ham napkins. They use pork as an ingredient like we use salt. For example, the menu at your favorite burger joint up the street typically lists ground beef, lettuce, and tomato between buns – noting nothing about salt. So why should the omelet you order in Argentina list the giant hunk of ham enveloping it?
Spain is the worst offender, where every block has a Museo de Jamon (that’s a “ham museum” for you gringos). Known locally as “Spanish McDonalds”, each of these pork factories are decorated with forests of pig legs dangling from rafters as hungry, rushing masses of crucifix-laden Spaniards gobble them to the bone.
Seriously, even Spanish Ruffles are “ham flavored” (seriously).
The worst part is, this isn’t some ancient cultural taste preference introduced by bands of pig-eating Iberian invaders thousands of years ago. Nor is it the product of some sort of chaotic pig population explosion. Rather, the pork obsession was imposed into Spanish culture during the Inquisition to keep the Jews away. The swine’s strong showing today indicates either the Spanish still really love their pork or they still really don’t like their Jews (probably more the bacon than the anti-Semitism).
So, for all of you kosher-styling, sojourning Jews out there, my Frommers(stein) guide to warding off anorexia in España and anywhere below America’s belt consists of learning three phrases:
Lay’s, por favor
After my first birthright trip, I was stricken with the terrible genetic disease known as “wanderlust” – passed down to me by my great32 grandfather, Moses. Hungry, Hungry Hebrew captures my benign observations disguised as rants as I meander around the world