Eating on the (very) cheap in Madrid

A museum of ham? Intriguing. Is it actually a museum? It’s packed. Everyone is eating and talking and laughing and enjoying themselves.

I see a line of people. It’s not yet lunchtime, so I wonder what the big fuss is over. It’s the line to get into Museo del Jamon. Looks like a lot of folks in there. A long wait. I’ll pass. I walk around, come back and there’s no line. I charge into the crowd to survey. There’s a deli side and a bar/restaurant side. It’s loud, and people are moving in every direction.

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The wait staff is like lightning. It’s hard to imagine how they each keep track of folks at their tables and bars. A wall of people is standing three or four deep, in back of those who are standing at or sitting at the bar. Upstairs–for over twice the price–I may sit in a seat at a table, though uncomfortably and after a long wait. I choose to go with the flow and see what standing and raising a couple of fingers for a few minutes can get me.

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Nothing. Apparently I have to elbow my way up to the bar before taking on the equally daunting task of acquiring the attention of staff, who are taking orders and delivering food and drink at break-neck speed.

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Finally, I dig out a spot at the bar and point to what I want: a large beer and a ham and cheese sandwich, called a bocadillo mixto; that’ll be €1,70. Wow–that’s cheap.  As I see my drink and food appear almost instantaneously, I assume it will be shitty beer and tiny mediocre sandwich at best, but at this point I’m too hungry to care.

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€1,70. I’m not kidding

I crunch into the 7″ baguette sandwich which is perfectly crispy, with spongy inside; its ham is excellent–similar to Serano in texture, flavor and saltiness. The cheese is a young Manchego, similar to an aged havarti, cut thin. That’s it. Simple, yet perfect and fresh. Crunchy, creamy, salty, tangy, earthy, porky. Add a refreshing malty Amstel beer to wash it all down? Damn. A perfect snack. Perhaps I’ll have another round as it’s so affordable and I already own my spot at the counter. I note the vast majority are ordering what I just ordered. I’ll stick with the majority for now.

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Interesting pitcher-filling technique

I look around and catch some wonderful moments. Great people watching here: reunions, arguments, business meetings, friends, lovers, everyone. It’s like meeting at Starbuck’s, except it’s a fraction of the cost, so the breadth of society is greater. The poor stand, eat very little and are savoring each morsel; the rich are reveling at tables with giant platters of Iberico ham, the most expensive on the planet; the masses are having a quick bite before a long lunch later.

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I’ve never seen more food move faster. Huge pans of sandwiches are arriving every few minutes. This place must own a bakery, cheese factory and ham processor. If I order a second round, I receive a few extra tapas to chew on: salumi, chorizo, olives. The volume is increasing and I’m being jostled and bumped–possibly by pickpockets. I’m finished anyway. Time to exit.

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As I explore Madrid I notice Museo del Jamon restaurants all over. Later, I note several in Barcelona. It’s a chain, yet the quality is shockingly high for the price. No wonder so many frequent the museum of ham. It’s a monument.

IF YOU GO
Museo del Jamon has several Madrid and Barcelona locations and serves high quality at low prices. A great quick tasty stop when schedules don’t allow for several hour lunches or it’s not yet meal time. Be prepared to worm your way to the counter for a real local experience. Recommended.
All images and content copyright ©2018 Eric Schadel. All rights reserved.

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