Every Spanish man, woman, child and dog has eaten a bocadillo (pronounced "bo-ka-die-jo"). This minimalist sandwich reigns supreme in Spain and its importance is on par with cheeseburgers in the United States, bánh mì in Vietnam and shawarma in Israel.
The word bocadillo translates to "small mouthful" in Spanish, but it's quite the opposite. It's made by cutting a 6-to 8-inch crusty barra de pan (the Spanish equivalent of a baguette) in half and filling it with two or three basic ingredients.
"Back in the day, it was just filled with Spanish ham," says Maria Barona, co-owner of Encasa, a Spanish restaurant in three different locations in Sydney, New South Wales. "Now you can get it with pretty much any filling that you want."
The traditional version is made with chorizo sausage, jamón serrano, tuna, omelette and cheese. The Spaniards tend not to add onions, pickles, lettuce or mayonnaise but may moisten the bread with slices of tomato or olive oil.
"The oil is just so beautiful that it doesn't really need anything else," Barona explains.
Barona's husband and business partner, Francisco "Pachi" Rodriguez, grew up eating a regional version of the bocadillo called the pepito, which is made with eye fillet.
"He has childhood memories of going to a specific place in Las Palmas where he's from to buy a pepito," says Barona. "He just had to have it at Encasa because it brings back memories for him."
These sandwiches were also a favourite childhood snack for Frank Camorra, a Barcelona-born chef and owner of MoVida restaurant in Melbourne, Victoria. His mother would drizzle olive oil on a crusty Vienna loaf, soften it with squishy tomatoes and add slices of homemade chorizo, which she'd cured in their laundry. Camorra considers these ingredients as the key to a quintessential Spanish tapas bar bocadillo.
"Saying that, every region of Spain has their own signature one," he adds.
Although you won't find the same bocadillo on the menu in every region, there's no shortage of this sandwich around town. Bocadillos are served everywhere: from cafeterias and bars to roadside rest stops, train stations, fast food chains or at home. They are eaten grilled or cold and are a filling breakfast, lunch or afternoon snack.
"It's not your normal sandwich and once people have actually tasted it, they will come back."
One of the reasons that bocadillos are popular in Spain is because they're very portable. Having minimal fillings means they're not as messy and less likely to spoil in the heat. Barona believes that preparing the bocadillo fresh to order also makes it far superior.
"It's not your normal sandwich and once people have actually tasted it, they will come back," Barona says.
One bocadillo that customers can't get enough of is Encasa's bocadillo de calamares. This humble sandwich consists of a crunchy bread roll stuffed with fried squid rings and a touch of aioli.
Camorra has experienced a similar response from customers at MoVida. Camorra says, "One of our most loved sandwiches that we do at the restaurant is the bocadillo de calamares. That's pretty much just found in Madrid, and it's a real classic street food there."
Grabbing one to go from a hole-in-the-wall bar or eating one al fresco in Plaza Mayor is a ritual for Madrid locals. Tourists can also be found washing these down with a caña (beer) and other tapas at the La Boqueria market in Barcelona.
What started as a low-cost snack is now a culinary symbol of Spain. Bocadillos aren't easy to come by in Australia but are a quick and simple lunch to recreate at home. Simply grab your baguette, add a drizzle of olive oil, slap on your favourite cold cut and crunch right in.
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Frank's boacdillo de calamares (fried calamari, aioli and peppers)
Makes 10 small rolls
This recipe makes 400g of aioli. It will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 150 ml olive oil
- 200 ml sunflower oil, for frying
- 1 kg calamari, whole, cleaned and prepped
- 200 g semolina
- 1 lemon, juice only
- 20 guindilla peppers (see Note)
- ½ cup parsley
- 10 bread rolls
- Salt, to taste
- To make the aioli, put the garlic on a wooden chopping board, coarsely chop and sprinkle with the sea salt and crush using the flat of the blade of the knife. Place a bowl on a wet dishtowel that has been folded in half and half again. This stops the bowl from moving around. Put the egg yolks in the bowl and add the mustard and garlic paste and gently blend together using a whisk or hand blender.
- Add the oils a few drops at a time whisking continuously. Each addition of oil needs to be emulsified into the egg mixture before you add any more. Look for a change in consistency. It should become gradually thicker. Keep whisking slowly adding the rest of the oils until you end up with a thick mayonnaise. Check for seasoning. Add the lemon juice and any salt dissolved into the lemon juice. Finally, whisk in a tablespoon of warm water. This will help strengthen the emulsion.
- To clean the calamari, start by holding onto the legs and pulling out of the body. Take the hood and gently tear off the wings on either side. Peel the skin from the hood and the wings. Cut the cartilage from the wings. Cut the hood open along what appears to be a seam. Remove the clear quill and scrape away any innards. Cut the legs from the mouth. Discard mouth, cartilage and innards. Separate the legs with a sharp knife. Cut the hood and wings into ½ x 5cm strips and the legs into 5cm lengths. Rinse and drain well.
- Preheat deep fryer or bring oil in a deep pan to 180°C.
- Season calamari with a good few pinches of sea salt, lemon juice and sprinkle over the semolina. Mix well. Shake off the excess semolina and deep fry the calamari for a minute to 90 seconds until lightly golden. Drain on kitchen paper. Season with salt and parsley.
- Cut the rolls in half, spoon on half a tablespoon of aioli on each, a few peppers and some of the calamari. Secure with a wooden skewer and serve with an ice-cold beer or drink of your choice.
Note: You can buy guindilla peppers by the jar from select grocers and delis.
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