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The Talisman Bocadillo

Every day in Barcelona I bought a jamón bocadillo from the market around the corner. It was a morning ritual. Before heading out on my explorations I would enter the bottom floor of the shopping mall near where I was staying. It was a hodgepodge food court of sorts which held an open grocery stall selling bottled refreshments, packaged desserts, and a few cheese selections.


The first day I bought one because I was hungry and couldn’t find anywhere open for breakfast. There they were stacked like bulbous bricks by the counter. They looked nourishing, welcoming, safe. I unwrapped the saran and devoured the semi-hard barra de pan, barely tasting the ham inside, before I even finished paying for it. 

Bocadillo-peppers-BT.JPEGThe second day I bought one because I was going on a long hike and didn’t know if I would be able to find food along the way. That bocadillo saved me from exhaustion during my excursion. Under the strain of the midday sun and the arduous walking nothing tasted as victorious as that bocadillo consumed with a tepid bottle of water.

Bocadillo-jamon-BT.JPEGThe third day I bought one because by that time the bocadillo had taken on the properties of a talisman to me. I couldn’t take on the city until I’d purchased my oblong baguette of jamón. Once I forgot it in my bag until returning home late at night — to find the bread soggy and the meat turned rancid in the heat of my backpack.   

Bocadillo-sandwich-BTStill I got them. The bocadillos became more than a means of sustenance. They were the key to getting me through a foreign city, the cipher to tackling a foreign tongue. They were my good luck charm, ensuring that I would survive the quotidian rigorous assaults to my senses. Traveling robs me of control and challenges my identity. To mitigate the fears that arise from such nudniks I always need a source of solace with me. In Barcelona, these little sandwiches were that source, edible tokens of consolation.



Serves 1                Total Time: 30 minutes [10 minutes preparation; 20 minutes cooking]


For the sandwich:

1 loaf of bread (either baguette or soft roll) 

2 thin slices pork loin

2 thin slices jamón serrano*

1 green bell peppers, sliced lengthwise 

1 large tomato, sliced in circles

2 Tbsp olive oil

Mojo picón sauce

Salt & black pepper


For the mojo picón sauce:

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 Tbsp white vinegar

3 Tbsp olive oil

⅜ tsp smoked paprika

⅛ tsp ground cumin

Pinch of salt


For the mojo picón sauce:

  1. Mix the garlic, smoked paprika, and cumin in a small bowl.
  2. Beat in the olive oil and vinegar with a fork or whisk and add salt to taste.

For the jamón bocadillo: 

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat in a small saucepan.
  2. Slice the green peppers and fry them in the oil for 10 minutes or until they are tender.
  3. Remove the peppers onto a plate and add salt to them.
  4. Place the pork loin slices in the same small saucepan of oil and sauté them for 3-4 minutes on one side, or until they are golden brown. Flip the slices onto their opposite side and cook to achieve same amount of color.
  5. Slice the bread in half and toast for 5 minutes or until lightly tanned.
  6. Drizzle each toast with olive oil.
  7. Place peppers, pork loin, tomatoes, and ham between the bread slices.
  8. Pour a bit of mojo picón sauce in between the meat layers or serve on the side as a dip. Enjoy! 

* BT Tip: The jamón Serrano is a relative of the famed jamón Iberico, but comes from Cerdos Blancos (white pigs). For those not eating meat, substitute sardines, omelet, or potatoes and beans for other delicious fillings.


89 replies »

  1. I can relate to your story about the jamón bocadillo, they are more than just nourishment. Your post brought back memories of the first one I had in Spain two years ago.

  2. I think this is the first time I “heard” anyone refer to a certain food as a talisman! I love it. The idea is that it brings comfort and – after a couple of days – familiarity in a foreign place or new environment.

    Those breads in the first photo look darn delicious. If there is one thing I miss the most from Europe (Belgium) it’s the variety of fresh, affordable, and “real” bread!!

    Even though I don’t eat much meat, I am very willing to give the bocadillo a try. Or two. 🙂

    • Yes, fresh bread is the best when it’s available. I happily search for bakeries, panadería, and boulangerie wherever I travel. I haven’t been to Belgium yet, but I’m excited to try the fresh bread there when I get the chance. 🙂

  3. I agree 100%. Spanish jamon is so delicious as well as their freshly baked breads! Just looking at the pictures and reading your post gave me fond memories of sandwiches which we bought in small cafe in Barcelona next to our hotel. We stayed in an area of Barcelona where people live in multistoried apartment buildings. They get together and chat on the benches, in small bistros and in cafes within the neighbourhood. It looked as if everybody knew each other.

    • I too enjoyed that many people would gather in the mornings on the sidewalks to chat or read the newspaper over their coffee. Mealtimes were joyful times while I was in Barcelona. Happy to hear you had a similar fun experience there.

  4. Although I am not an eater of meat I can appreciate how this brought you great sustenance for exploring. We were in Barcelona this fall and can attest to a lot of walking and meandering.

  5. Yes, I know, myself can tell you many anecdotes about it, I will give you one, some years ago I found an import Spanish products store in the US, and for the Christmas party at work I ordered a wheel of aged Manchego cheese, a pound of Serrano ham, white asparagus, olives, Marcona almonds, and other caned goods, and Sherry wine, and made a Sangria with Tempranillo wine, a coworker a good friend of mine, as a young man went into a school trip to Spain, and after trying the cheese and the ham at the party he come to me and said:
    “Thank you, thank you! As a young men I went to Spain and you know most of us when we went to eat ordered what it seemed most familiar to us, avoiding unknown stuff, but at a bullfight, I was so hungry that I bought a sandwich to a guy who carried them in a basket.
    I took a bite of that thing, and it was so good, that I went after him and bought the last sandwich he had in his basket, to me that was the most delicious sandwich ever!

    And for many years after I wonder why that sandwich tasted so good?
    Well today I know, these flavors brought back to me the memory of those sandwiches!”

    Since that Christmas party it become a tradition at work, everybody will pitch some money, and will get a large order of Spanish goods.

  6. There’s nothing like fueling up before exploring, before starting a new day, and knowing that you have food to help you along the way.

    I’ve learned the hard way that I need food every few hrs. I used to ‘crash’ almost like a low blood sugar thingy, and as you can imagine, traveling took my body for a spin. I feel like half the time you are out and about, you’re looking for your next meal.

    Good work 🙂

    • Thanks Lani. 😊 You’re so right. It’s not until I began to travel as an adult that I realized how important food was to my overall well-being and the eating schedule and type of food that my body had grown accustomed to. So many lessons on the road one ends up learning the hard way!

  7. Well no wonder you got hook to those ham sandwiches, as a child even if living in Mexico I had the privilege, because of a Spanish friend neighbor, first, and then my father, to try Jamon Serrano, and Iberico very early, naively couldn’t figure out why the local ham didn’t taste anything like the Spanish one. 🙂

  8. Ahhh the bocadillo! You are speaking to Ben’s heart and stomach right now…. I am not a big meat eater myself, but when in Spain… yes, yes bocadillos are the way to go! I really enjoyed this post, reading about how this morning ritual gave you comfort and sustenance. Thanks for the lovely memories of that perfect sandwich ~ lots of crunch always and a salty creamy taste and texture. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!!


  9. This is so charming, and honest. I like the way you tell a story. It’s true, travel is challenging and food that becomes familiar can make such a difference. It doesn’t hurt that where you were, I’m sure the ham was seriously good and the bread was too. You’ve made me nostalgic for European sandwiches. And the recipe looks great. Cheers!

  10. Oh yes, Atreyee, what a way to start a day in Barcelona. Your photos are tantalizing and the jamon is superb there. I hope to get back to Spain someday soon. Wishing you a year ahead full of fun adventures and inspiring photography!

  11. My gosh, your blog post and photographs took me back to my time in Spain 6 years ago! It’s also making me excited for my trip in June. I’m getting married in Segovia.

    My mouth waters thinking of jamón Iberico, thought I’m so grateful for the vegetarian alternative at the bottom! Thank you! x

    If you’re looking for any hiking suggestions which are a little more “off the beaten path” – I strongly recommend Ordesa Valley. Picos de Europa is also stunning.

    Stay safe, I can’t wait to see where your adventure takes you! 🙂 x

    • Oh my goodness!! Congratulations on your upcoming wedding!! I’m so incredibly happy for you Kylie and wish you all the best.

      Thanks so much for the hiking suggestion! I love exploring anything “off the beaten path” and after city wanderings I’m ready to see more of the Spanish landscape.

      Take care of yourself. ❤️

  12. There are so many things I enjoy about Barcelona and the jamon sandwiches are definitely right up there (and I’m not a ham fan at home). I’m going to try making that sauce…thanks for the recipe.

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