Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Because Spain: The Bocadillo

THE bocadillo

The bocadillo is a Spanish icon that never fails to make me smile. To explain, I will start with a definition, or rather, a distinction. A "sandwich" is a weak excuse for nutritional sustenance consisting of a little something between sliced bread. A bocadillo refuses to be in the same room with this Wonder Bread abomination. Only baguette-style bread is suitable, with cheese, ham, embutido, or the pinnacle of health, tortilla (the Spanish potato omelette), wedged within to coalesce as the perfect snack.

Now maybe you're thinking, "What's so funny about that? That sounds delicious." Well, it's not so much the bocadillo itself that gives me a chuckle, but rather its cultural pervasiveness and general ubiquity here in Spain. And remember, I said snack.

The Spanish schedule differs from American and British tradition in many ways, lunch being an incongruity of particular importance. While lunchtime in the States is generally soup, salad, or dare I say it, a sandwich, that's eaten around noon to hold you over until dinner, it is the principal meal of the Spanish day and falls anywhere between one and four in the afternoon. This being a bit of a long stretch to endure on an empty stomach, the Spanish sneak in a little something called merienda after breakfast but before lunch, (and after lunch but before dinner!): A "snack."

Perhaps working at high schools has given me a stilted perspective, but I say "snack" because during the school day my students have two recreos, or recesses, at which time I fight my way through them like a salmon upstream as they overflow into the courtyards, inevitably armed with either a bocadillo in hand or a euro to trade for one at the school store. Perhaps this scene sounds familiar to Americans who have experienced K-12 public schooling?

The bocadillo: In America, it's lunch. In Spain, it's a snack!

The phenomena really hit me when we went on a field trip to London last year. In addition to extra socks and underwear, not one, but most of my students (and the other teachers!), had packed their suitcases with embutido, or cold cuts, to make bocadillos. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think this would happen in the States. In a "because Spain" kind of way, I guess it makes sense: It's the perfect pairing of Spain's rich embutido selection with the oh-so-essential Spanish bread.

This is a real photo of a bocadillo that I really ate. After a hike one day a generous friend made me this masterpiece, and who was I, the foreigner, to question? I will admit, though, that another friend and eyewitness confirmed that this was indeed a ridiculous exaggeration. The bocadillo culture, however, is not. Even though my students ate breakfast an hour ago, and are going to have another recess in another hour, and then go home for lunch after that, the bocadillo does not constitute a meal. It's a snack.

om nom nom

Okay, okay, I will take a moment to reign myself in and include a disclaimer before you begin with the "but's". It's true that the bocadillo can, on occasion, be a meal. Maybe you're in a rush. Maybe you just want a little something for lunch on the beach. Maybe you're traveling on the cheap (like me!). There are exceptions.

Have you ever eaten a Spanish bocadillo? Do you find it a funny phenomena like me?

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