Sunday, May 18, 2008

We went to find the best sandwich in the world, at an inconspicuous shop that looked like it could be closed, when we saw it from the Rambla, until someone swung open the door and walked in. There seemed to be mostly locals there, seated around a bar with two women working it. The menu was mostly unpromising - wraps and melted-cheesy sandwiches, the kinds you'd find at an airport terminal. In fact the Iberico ham sandwich had sort of been promoted out of the menu and into its own rarefied spaces, on the board and on the walls, scrupulously accompanied by references to and quotes from Mark Bittman's effusive New York Times review, in English and Spanish. The Times review calls the sandwich a "flauta," which means a baguette sandwich I guess, but at Cafe Viena they just call it the Iberico, and they could probably just refer to it as it.

A human statue from the Rambla came in and darted to the bathroom.

The sandwich was great of course, and the greatness comes from the Iberian ham, which I made sure I ate plenty of every damn day we were in Spain. The fat on it had a buttery, vaguely sweet quality. Like many other squeamish Americans I tend to pare ribbons of pale, cold fat off the meat when I'm faced with a plate of ordinary ham. But this fat was appetizing and delicious - it had none of the throat-clogging, unpleasant blandness of other fat. The meat itself was rich and slightly chewy, and delicate, and aromatic. The baguette was good and crusty, and the sandwich included only one other ingredient, one that you barely notice but which probably is crucial to the entire experience: a layer of fresh crushed tomato, gossamer-like, thin enough to convey just the spirit or the idea of tomato.