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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.


84 replies »

    • Haha, you are so right! It is hard to beat the Spanish ham. Thankfully I too was able to enjoy marvelous other dishes during my time in Barcelona: paella, patatas bravas, croquetas, boquerones….remembering all the fantastic dishes is making me hungry!

  1. Bocadillos are the best! They are the epitome of Spain! I can totally relate on the Bocadillo providing nourishment on a grueling and long walk–they really hit the spot. Whenever I first land in Spain, jamon and queso on bread is the first thing I get. Although, after a while, it can start to wear on you, haha!

    Thanks for reminding me of Spain!

  2. Your food photography is making my mouth water. (Excuse me while I wipe the drool off my keyboard…)

    It’s interesting how sometimes food can become representational of an experience, especially while travelling, isn’t it? For myself, I find those amazing food experiences can never be replicated in another time or place, even if the item itself isn’t unusual or exotic.

    • Hahaha. 😆 Thanks. I so agree with you. Food is so often much more than sustenance. It has been on my travels many things: a means of bonding, a comfort, an armor against the unknowns of travel life, and the memory of an entire city. And while I enjoy trying to create that dish again, as you say, it’s never the same.

  3. Such a warm post. Although, I have a confession. I’m not a fan of cure meats and Basil has a tough time convincing me to try them (like Jamon). My Spanish friend coaxed me and finally gave up. You have a way with words though. I would have tried it, had I been there with you. Sending you a warm hug!

    • Haha, that’s the best compliment, thank you! I never try to force feed my favorite dishes to friends, but it makes me happy to hear you say that you would’ve tried the jamón with me. So much of wanting to try a particular food has to do with how it’s presented, the texture, the aroma, and how comfortable you feel in the surroundings (also who you are with). Lots of love to you, my sweet and courageous friend. ❤️

      • Awww! Until we meet then! Keep some Jamon for me. I hear it tastes better with age? 🙂 Thank you for such a wonderful compliment. I must bear it mind when I go to the dentist. Haha. xoxo

    • I think you would too! Every part of a sandwich is so important and in this case – as you point out – the bread really helps give it a crunchy and delicious flavor. Thanks so much for stopping by. Wishing you a very wonderful new year!

    • Thanks so much for stopping by! It’s always so fun to chat with you. I’ve been rereading some of your older posts about Mumbai and Tangier and enjoying them hugely. Wishing you a New Year full of joy and wonder.

  4. I so enjoyed your ode to a sandwich. Intertwining the diversity of your days with the consistency of this delicacy is masterful. I can relate to your sentiment that travel robs you of control and challenges your identity. I too manage such discomforts on the road with little doses of consistency. For me, it is my travel blanky/sarong. If I have that with me, everything is going to be alright.

    • Thank you. I used to have a pair of travel shoes with a similar security blanket comfort, but sadly they fell apart after over a decade of service. I like that you have the same connection with your sarong; it seems so apropos for a seafaring spirit like you.

  5. You are wise to eat Spanish jamon, daily while in Spain. Glad you discovered it immediately to fuel you on your adventures. Can’t wait to hear more about them!

  6. 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.

  7. 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. 🙂

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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!

  12. 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. 🙂

  13. 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!!


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