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What is the difference between a “Sandwich” and a "Bocadillo"?

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Bocata Menu in Burgos, Spain

Bocata Menu in Spain (c) 2008 Rodrigo Martinez Licensed to About.com

Rodrigo Martinez
Question: What is the difference between a “Sandwich” and a "Bocadillo"?
So you've seen sandwiches and "bocadillos" on menus in Spain... Aren't they both the same thing - sandwiches?! Actually, they are two very different types of sandwich.
Answer:

In Spain, there are two types of sandwiches. The first type is a “sandwich,” using the English word, but pronounced with a Spanish accent, sahnd-weech. This kind of sandwich is made with modern-day white bread, called pan de molde in Spanish. Many times these sandwiches are served in cafeterias and available cold or grilled. A sandwich is definitely not considered much more than a snack in Spain.

The second type of sandwich is the traditional bocadillo or bocata, made with a rustic barra de pan or baguette-style bread loaf. Bocadillos are served everywhere from taverns and bars to cafeterias, roadside establishments and at home. However, you probably would not see a bocadillo on a restaurant menu. If you want something more than a snack, a bocadillo will do the trick.

What’s in a Spanish sandwich or bocadillo?

Neither kind of sandwich has much more than meat, ham, cheese, omelet or tuna. In general, the Spanish do not add lettuce, pickles, onions, mayonnaise or secret sauce on a bocadillo. They are simply meat, tuna, cheese, chorizo sausage or omelet between two pieces of bread. Sometimes the bread will be moistened by cutting a tomato in half and rubbing the cut side of the tomato onto the bread, or drizzling a bit of Spanish olive oil onto cut side of the bread – or both. Bocadillos can be cold or hot.

The bocadillo might not sound as appealing as an American sub sandwich, but what is lacks in ingredients, it makes up for in flavor. Most sausages, cold cuts and hams in Spain are very flavorful and easily eaten with a slice of bread. They are also easily portable when traveling. Because bocadillos do not have lots of mayonnaise or lettuce and tomatoes in them, they are not as messy or as likely to spoil in the heat. They are great to take on a weekend camping, hiking or biking trip, or to eat for an afternoon snack if you are touring a new city on foot. Many Spaniards regularly prepare their favorite bocadillos to take with them on the bus or train, to hold them over until they reach their destination and can eat a proper meal.

Typical Bocadillos in Spain

Because the cuisine of each region in Spain is so different, typical fillings for bocadillos will vary from region to region. In Cataluna, for example it is typical to drizzle olive oil and rub tomato on the inside of the baguette, while in other regions, this is not as common. All over the Iberian Peninsula you'll probably find ham, chorizo, cheese and tortilla offered as fillings in bocadillos.

The first photo attached to this article shows a typical menu board with a variety of bocadillos offered, including:

  • Calamares - Squid
  • Bacon - Bacon
  • Jamon y Queso - Ham and Cheese
  • Ternera - Veal
  • Lomo - Cured Loin
  • Jamon York - Ham (lunch meat style deli ham)
  • Queso - Cheese
  • Jamon Serrano - Serrano Cured Ham
  • Especial Gaona (Specialty of the House) - Tuna, Peppers, Anchovies, Olives
  • Tortilla - Omelet

The second photo shows a bocadillo made with a Tortilla de Chorizo (Chorizo Sausage Omelet).

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