December 16, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Food and wine, Spain, Travel, Travels in Spain

Road trips, baseball games, lunches on the run – all events that might conjure up images of greasy burgers and large sodas (for us Americans anyway). A long drive through the US usually leaves me starved and perplexed since McDonald’s just isn’t on the list of stops that I’m willing to make. Spain, of course, is another story. Here, I save my appetite specifically for the road trips.

Unlike the US, the roadsides in Spain are not littered with burger joints and drive-thrus. Instead you will find that next to nearly all freeway gas stations there are cafeterías. Cafeterías, as you may remember, are a cross between a restaurant and a bar, and in many cases might surprise you with their trashy floors. This roadside version of this cafetería typically isn’t a franchise or chain, but just an establishment run by some local Spaniard who wants to serve up good roadside grub.

The magic in this is that each of these cafeterías will almost always serve you the most standard of delicious Spanish bocadillos (along with a variety of other dishes). These bocadillos (sandwiches) include items like jamón, manchego cheese or tortilla española served on a freshly baked baguette (yes, I said “freshly baked” – believe it or not, gas stations here customarily cook and sell freshly baked bread). It’s nothing fancy – no condiments, no tomatoes or onions, just pure Spanish goodness served between a soft, billowy roll of bread. Taken to-go, or eaten at the bar and followed by a café solo (espresso), the bocadillo IS Spanish fast food. Protein, carbs, fats – everything one could wish for when hunger starts calling mid-road-trip.

This beloved Spanish sandwich isn’t just a staple on roadsides, however. Like American fast food, it is an integral part of to-go food culture here in Spain. Last week I went to a Real Madrid game and was tickled to see every person in site whip out a wrapped up bocadillo at half time (pardon, “intermission.” This soccer lingo is way over my head). Everywhere I turned, I saw another fútbol fan happily chatting with their friends while inhaling their favorite Spanish hoagy. No fries, no hot dogs, no burgers (and don’t think it’s because the Spaniards don’t love themselves a burger, because they do, probably more than Americans actually).

So, when I’m hitting the roads of Spain, like I often do, what is my bocadillo of choice? Jamón Ibérico and manchego cheese. Pure bocadillo love my friends. Incidentally, I am off to the US for the holidays this Saturday, which means that jamón and manchego cheese withdrawals start in T minus 2 days!


7 Responses to “The bocadillo: Spain’s go-to to-go food”

  1. Sofia Says:

    I shouldn’t have read this post, it made me miss all the tasty Bocadillos!!!

  2. Erin Says:

    I just had my last bocadillo (at the airport) before departing to the US for the holidays. I miss them already. On the other hand, I can’t wait to get my hands on a proper American sandwich – avocado, mustard, cheddar cheese, turkey!

  3. Heather GG Says:

    This post brings back happy memories of road trips out of Asturias. My husband’s mother was always waiting by the door with a bag of aluminum foil wrapped bocadillos as we headed out the door. Living outside of Spain, when it comes time for a road trip, my husband heads straight to the kitchen to make a tortilla and heads out to the bakery for a baguette. We’ve had bocadillos de tortilla at concerts in Toronto, at the beach in Costa Rica, even on a train here in China! As good as they are, I’m dying for one made with proper jamon. It’s a good thing my upper palate has had time to adjust to the crusty baguette!

  4. Erin Says:

    Isn’t it tragic that such a basic sandwich is so difficult to replicate elsewhere? At least you can make tortilla, but that’s definitely not a small effort! Are baguettes easy enough to find in China?

    In related news, the manchego cheese we got at Whole Foods is SO good. I may not have jamon, but I think the cheese might just hold me over until my return!

  5. Robin Says:

    Bocadillo de chorizo = all that is good in the world….

  6. bnann Says:

    If you are ever near a place called Dueñas in Palencia, look for the 24 hour transport cafe (with a hostal) – a massive home-made menu for 10 euros in 2011 at 12 midnight and bocadillos & raciones to satisfy the most hungry.

  7. Erin Says:

    I might have to just make sure I end up in Dueñas – this sounds AWESOME. Thanks for the suggestion!

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