Two weeks in Spain seems like the perfect dietary antidote to three months in the Muslim world. Pork is everywhere here. Between the jamon serrano (cured ham) legs that adorn every Spanish bench-top, the chorizo, bacon, ribs and chops, pork is easily the most consumed meat. I’ve seen at least half a dozen bars in Madrid each claiming to be the ‘Museum of Ham’.
A friend who made the trip down from Paris to see us for a Madrid weekend wondered how this porky prevalence came about when most of Spain was under the rule of Moorish Muslims for centuries. Then I wondered too, and set about finding out:
- Spanish pork consumption predated the Moorish invasion. Dried ham was Spain’s main export to the rest of the Roman Empire.
- When the Moors came many Spainards did stop eating pork. But some Christians chose to as a deliberate cat of defiance. This is almost certainly the most delicious form of political protest, ever. I’m (probably unrealistically) imagining bacon boot-leggers.
- Eventually the Moorish invaders were pushed back by Christian armies. The Christians would force feed pork to Muslims who refused to denounce their faith. In 1504 a Moorish Mufti pronounced that it wasn’t un-Islamic to eat pork if under duress.
- As the Moors lost power, Muslims fearing persecution would lead double lives, eating pork in public, but preserving their religion in private (they also apparently accepted baptism, but then doused themselves with hot water to annul the ritual).
And so the Spanish pork-gobbling tradition survived the period of Moorish occupation just as its Christian institutions did, and when our San Sebastian-Madrid bus pulls over I can be confident I’ll find a bocadillo (baguette sandwich) filled to the brim with delicious cured ham. Praise be for that.
(As an aside, I found some interesting factoids when researching this post. Pork is the most eaten meat in the world, but the most widely eaten meat – included in the diet of 70% of the world’s population – is neither pork, nor chicken, nor beef, but goat.)