My Nemesis – Jamon and Jamon y Queso: Argentine Ham and Cheese: Unavoidable!

19 01 2012

No memoir of this trip would be complete without a narrative of my travails with an Argentine favorite: Jamon (Ham), and especially Jamon y Quesos (Ham and Cheese sandwiches).

First off, I must say upfront one of my favorite things about travel is trying new food! But in Argentina, one thing I was unable to avoid is a food I do NOT eat, and which is not new to me, which is ham. I do NOT eat ham or ham and cheese sandwiches, and if I do, they certainly have something on them to complement the ham and cheese.

But in Argentina, one runs into ham and ham and cheese at every restaurant or lunch spot. These are dry sandwiches. They are almost ubiquitous – north, south, east or west, you’ll see them. They are on a dry bread that looks like, but does not taste nor has the texture of, a hoagie roll. They typically put exactly one piece of ham and one piece of cheese on the sandwich. Nothing more. You are not likely to be offered mustard, mayonnaise, a tomato or any lettuce! You are expected to “enjoy” this dry concoction without anything.

I saw them on menus, in cafeterias, on a ferry, in grocery stores, package stores, liquor stores, and on the national airline served as an in-flight meal! When we ordered trail lunches, they included this same ham and cheese sandwich every time, with one exception. And that one time, the alternative was tuna, but again, served on a dry piece of bread.

At breakfast, you will not see eggs on the menu. But you will see ham (jamon) accompanied by any number of other things. Never chicken. Never bacon. Never sausage. Just ham. It is possible to get eggs, but you have to plead hard to get eggs!

The trail lunches that were the best for me were ones I made myself. Even then, though, there were challenges. That is because fresh vegetables and fruits are in short supply in Patagonia. Even in some markets, I had to hunt to find something fresh. I wondered if supplies were delivered weekly? That shows it really is a “frontier” region.

One of my travel companions is Jewish, and I found out she’d tell the people preparing the food she couldn’t eat ham. They made alternatives available. I should have thought of that! It would have made my lunches much more pleasant.

I’ll never understand the passion for ham. And, I never saw one pig in 24 days in Argentina. Nor did I see a chicken!

I am not the only one noting this phenomenon, for Internet research reveals others have suffered the same as I!

Here is a blog mentioning the ham and cheese obsession and lack of pigs!

Here is another quote from a traveler:

Ham & Cheese

by Ash59

“You fly between Argentinian airports and the standard fare on the plane will probably be a ham & cheese sandwich. You go into a supermarket to get a sandwich and all that will be …ham & cheese. You ask for a lunch box from the hotel and you get, you’ve got it, a ham & cheese sandwich. It become a standing joke with our tour group that if we were due a lunch anywhere, then it was likely to consist of a ham & cheese sandwich…… It got to the point where it seemed that if an Argentinian was asked what was in a meal and they did not understand the question, then they said “ham & cheese” because that would be accepted, regardless of what was actually in the meal!”

This is not to say I had no good meals in Argentina! I sure did, some excellent dinners and certainly the ice cream is special. But the lunches, and breakfasts, were really difficult!


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