• 2022.07.06
  • “Bocadillo” – A National Dish
Nearly all Spaniards probably eat bread on a daily basis, for example, the bocadillo, also called “bocata,” which is filled with a wide variety of foods. Similarly in Japan, nearly everyone likely eats rice in some form every day, for example, rice balls known as “onigiri” or “omusubi.” Much like these rice balls, the bocadillo can be thought of as a national fast food, as there is probably no place in Spain where it does not exist, and it can be found in every nook and cranny, from the big cities to the mountain villages. The bocadillo makes appearances at breakfast, lunch, dinner, late at night, early in the morning, or any time, at home, school, work, in the car, parks, on factory inspections, at bars, cafeterias, set-meal restaurants, anywhere. It is an easy and excellent way of topping up your energy levels before doing something, and you can make one at home, or buy one at a café, bar, or gas station. It is also an essential item when traveling long distance in Spain, where “ekiben” (“railway station lunch boxes”) are not available. It is an absolutely essential item, at least when we travel by train. We had the bitter experience in the past of incurring the displeasure of surrounding passengers when we brought some onigiri wrapped in nori and “takuan” (pickled giant radish) on board a train, so lately we have been having nothing but bocadillo lunch boxes. That’s because in so doing, our food doesn’t attract attention, as even if we fill our rolls with chorizo sausage and its distinctive aroma, or mold cheese and its somewhat peculiar smell, they would be familiar to every Spaniard.
Now, if I were asked, “A bocadillo is bread filled with ingredients, so isn’t it a sandwich?” I would firmly reply, “No, it is not a sandwich.” In Spain, when you call something a sandwich, you only mean the thing made of flat, square slices of bread, in other words, the same shape as “shokupan” (square/rectangular bread) in Japan. The bread used in Spain for the bocadillo is principally a baguette, or “barra,” or in other words, anything that’s not square? “Bocadillo,” not “sandwich,” is also the name for the products on the official Spanish website of the fast-food chain from the US that makes SUBmarine-shaped bread rolls filled with your favorite ingredients. They recently launched a version with a square ciabatta roll, but as you might expect, they call it a “SUBocaditos,” not a “sandwich.”

Photo 1

Photo 1 shows the bocadillo menu board at a local restaurant and bar. They have hot, “caliente,” bocadillos filled with freshly prepared steaming hot ingredients, and cold, “frío,” bocadillos filled with cold ham, cheese, and so on.

(1) Pork belly, (2) pork fillet, (3) grilled bacon, (4) fried chorizo sausage, (5) Burgos “morcilla” (blood sausage), (6) boiled ham, (7) veal steak, (8) Spanish omelet, (9) Iberico dry-cured ham, (10) Serrano dry-cured ham, (11) Iberico-pork chorizo sausage, (12) Iberico-pork salami, (13) sheep’s cheese, (14) tuna fish and red bell pepper, (15) vinegar pickled anchovy, (16) salt pickled anchovy, (17) deep-fried squid
In Japan they have the popularity rankings for onigiri fillings, which show the differences in preferences by age and gender, right. Tuna-mayo varieties probably used to be unusual 50 years ago but are now the most popular by far, meanwhile, I am very happy that the traditional “umeboshi” (pickled plum), “shiojake” (salted salmon), and “okaka” (shaved fish seasoned with soy sauce and sugar) are also putting up a good fight. Now, no matter what anybody says, absolutely, probably, maybe…, I personally think the best Spanish bocadillo filling by far is “tortilla española” (Spanish omelet).
Also called “tortilla de patatas” (potato omelet), which as I mentioned in my previous article, is, as you know, a national dish with the status of being the dish for which His Majesty the King provided the recipe in person. The ingredients are just egg and potato, the old price favorites, and it is the cheapest of the bocadillos on the menu above. It is food that provides a comfort for Spaniards that is ingrained in their DNA from childhood, if not, from when they were in the womb. Photo 2 shows the impressive appearance of an orthodox tortilla española, which, it stands to reason, is also called “el Sol de España” (“the Spanish sun”). Photo 3 shows how far the inside is normally cooked, but a lot of people rave about half-cooked, still runny tortilla española. This slice is the size of the snack provided free when you order a drink.

Photo 2

Photo 3

As for the second-ranked filling and below, there is infinite variety and it depends on things like regional preferences, the contents of the fridge when making the bocadillo, the intensity of your hunger, how much time you have, what you feel like, and how much you want to spend. Some possibilities include the go-to ingredient, dry-cured ham, which in turn depends on your wallet, whether it’s the super high-grade dry-cured ham made from acorn-fed Iberico pigs or the more reasonably priced Serrano ham, and then there are cheeses, especially matured Manchego from La Mancha, which enjoys unshakeable popularity.

Spanish families don’t have the Japanese custom of making elaborate lunch boxes with food made to look like characters from movies and cartoons, and the lunchbox bocadillos they give kids have liver paste or chocolate spread mixed with nuts. Canned foods are also essential for making bocadillos, the standard ones probably including sardines in oil, mussels, canned mackerel, and so on. One of the real pleasures of a bocadillo is the way the oil from the can of mackerel soaks into the bread making it moist.
“Calamares fritos” (deep-fried squid) is a very popular bocadillo filling here in Madrid, and shops specializing in them have opened up. A lot of people try a deep-fried squid bocadillo as a memory of their trip to the capital, Madrid, so you see a lot of shops selling them near the terminus railway station and in other busy areas. There may be a similarity between the specialty of this inland city from which the closest sea is 360 km being squid, of all things, the province of Ourense, which is not on the coast, in the autonomous community of Galicia in northwestern Spain having renowned octopus dishes, and a local specialty of Yamanashi Prefecture being stewed abalone.

It appears that the Spanish drinking culture of drinking on your feet is spreading in Japan, and people are becoming familiar with tapas and “pinchos” cuisine. These are drink snacks served at pubs and the like that you eat on top of a piece of bread, rather than sandwiching them, and perhaps thinking they were blood relatives of the bocadillo, or maybe they made the mistake in the hullabaloo of the recent gourmet boom, but people are slapping on elaborate titles like “add whatever flavor sauce,” and then there are alarming culinary movements such as molecular gastronomy, liquid nitrogen, and things like foam (oh dear!), but I take no notice of critiques by a tire company in the neighboring country, and resolutely support the stout-bodied bocadillo, a medium for Spanish DNA. These, however, are merely the musings of this delusional old man based on his own prejudices and stereotypes.
A subject of national debate now is whether to put “cebolla” (onion) in your tortilla or not. A person against adding onion is called a “sincebollista” (“without-onionist”) and a person for is called a “concebollista” (“with-onionist”). There is no onion in His Majesty King Alfonso XIII’s recipe, but a poll last year showed that the pro-onion group is predominant, at 73%. I am pro-onion. You really improve the sweetness and richness, adding depth of flavor, by mixing in very well fried onion, about a quarter to a half the amount of potato… But that too is simply my own personal opinion.


  • Susumu Yamada
  • JobSpanish and Japanese Translation

It’s been almost 37 years since I received a residence permit and work permit from the Spanish government and paid my first tax and social insurance premiums. Now that I’m at that age where I will soon go and register at the senior human resources center, I’m grateful to have this opportunity to introduce you all to this country that has taken care of me these many years.

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