Saturday, January 9, 2010

Prosciutto and Melon

I arrived in Rome at the end of July, just before the city was emptied of Italians and populated by tourists. I, however, was not a tourist. My plan to stay in an apartment for six weeks in the summer, continuing to work daily, made me a kind of resident Roman in my own mind. I would not be swayed by tourist traps, nor would I fumble with tourist maps. I came to live.

This meant a couple of changes. In the months preceding my departure, I had had conversations with my mother regarding my Muslim faith and how I had reached a point of doubt, overcoming for the first time the fear that keeps so many of the faithful faithful. I can't remember now the specific rationale that led me to break the pork discipline in particular, as I still value such traits in myself. I just knew I didn't want to miss out.

I sat in the kitchen in our apartment on Via de Monte Verde. I had come to join my friends Tom and Rachel who had been in the city for some months and had a sublet in their apartment open up, which I promptly filled. Rachel's knack for cooking had adopted Italy, and upon hearing of my dietary deviance, Tom requested that we have prosciutto and melon. Rachel prepared the salty/sweet appetizer.

Initially, I noted the sourness of the thinly sliced meat. What I assumed to be the effect of the meat's curing I later understood to be a taste inherent in many cuts of pork. The very subtle tartness complemented the melon greatly. I should note that produce in Italy surpasses what we get in America by leaps and bounds. So it should be expected in a country that values quality over quantity and price in foods.

The combination of flavors was excellent. There was a canceling out effect, the meat's saltiness and the fruit's sweetness taking the edge off each other and allowing once to focus on the textures. The melon melted in my mouth, leaving the slightly elastic, fatty mouth feel of the ham to remain for a moment. It was a good start.

At this time, I felt a slight disgust. I couldn't stop thinking about the animal in its living form, wallowing through mud and nuzzling its own feces. The unhygenic nature of the pig is a firm belief among Muslims, and it's deterring image is an effective one when face with the meat. While modern pork is quite clean and won't make you sick, the idea of this animals pink, fuzzy flesh and its gluttonous behavior, its unusual nose and the noises it emits were very, very present in my mind as I ate. This feeling was strongest the first time I had pork, this dish of prosciutto and melon. Balanced with its good taste, the aversion would diminish as the adventures continued.


  1. Just heard of your project in pork and have a recommendation: come to Spain. Before moving here I'd only eaten products that masqueraded their pig origins (i.e. salami) but out here the jamon is freakin amazing, and has made me a convert (I still won't touch any uncured pork product, though).

  2. For the Americans: