As common as the peanut butter jelly sandwich is to the American diet, the bocadillo is the sandwich staple in Spain.
This sandwich is served on a baguette, not sliced bread. That is one of the things that struck me during my time in Spain: breads, specifically French loaves, are an integral part of the Spanish diet (now, how the Spanish are so slim despite the carb loading is another article). Eaten for breakfast, lunch, snack, and heck, even dinner, the bocadillo is as Spanish as it gets.
Like many staple dishes, the bocadillo is a simple offering. Take a baguette (sold often in personal sizes), slice it lengthwise, and your first step is already done. Next comes condiments, however, no lettuce, mayo, or mustard are to be had here. Instead, a traditional Barcelonian bocadillo needs tomato. And no, I don’t mean the sliced tomato we know in our sandwiches. I mean tomato juice/sauce. The “tomate” is achieved by cutting a tomato in half, taking one half as if it were a lemon, then rubbing both pieces of bread with tomato juice—really.
Next, it’s topping time. Bocadillos are usually filled with sliced cheese and/or jamon, a sister to prosciutto eaten all throughout Spain. But don’t expect cheddar or bologna here. The cheese is usually Manchego, which has a much stronger aroma than American cheeses. Also, unlike the American sandwiches we know, these sandwiches have only one thin layer of filling; you don’t see massive stacks of meat or cheese in bocadillos. Sometimes you’ll see these sandwiches filled with tortilla (potato omelette), but almost always, bocadillos are very minimalist.
So the next time you’re in Spain or just trying to change up your lunch routine, do as the Spanish do. Skip the sliced bread sandwiches and go for the bocadillo. Every other Spanish child already has one packed for lunch!