The most common term for a sandwich in Spanish is bocadillo, literally "little mouthful" — though there are numerous other terms used (including, well, sandwich), some of them regional, and though not all bocadillos are by any means little. The "international summit of gastronomy" called Madrid Fusión, held in the Spanish capital every January, includes an event called "Concurso de Bocadillos de Autor" — which means something like "Chefs' Sandwich Contest." The bocadillos produced for this event can get pretty elaborate. One a few years back involved cep carpaccio, a salad of watercress and crayfish, and "chips" made from sheeps'-milk cheese.
Traditional bocadillos, though, are simplicity itself: bread or a roll of some kind with a filling typically of meat (ham, sausage, pork loin) or cheese or sometimes (this one always seems strange to non-Spaniards but is really very good), a wedge of the flat potato omelette called tortilla española. That's it. No dressing, no lettuce and tomato, no frou-frou.
The irresistible torta de aceite con paleta ibérica (olive-oil roll with cured Iberian pork shoulder) served at the Mas Gourmets charcutería in the stylish, recently refurbished Mercado de San Miguel near Madrid's Plaza Mayor, is an eloquent example. The bread is a crisp, olive-oil-soaked round bun not much more than three inches in diameter, faintly bagel-ish in appearance though not in flavor or consistency — a type of bread typical of the region of Burgos. The filling is a generous heap of thin wisps of paleta, pork shoulder cured like ham, from the famous black Iberian pigs that also yield the best Spanish jamón. The paleta came from Carrasco, one of the best producers in the Guijuelo region of Salamanca, which now rivals Jabugo as premium ham country.
Jorge Mas, proprietor of Mas Gourmets — which is based in Barcelona but has recently expanded to Madrid — believes it is very important to serve top-quality artisanal bread with the pork products that are his company's specialty, and one of his projects is to teach non-Catalan Spaniards how to make proper pa amb tomàquet — bread rubbed with tomato — also a common basis for Spanish ham sandwiches.
Meanwhile, his staff has got this bocadillo down. The torta de aceite and the paleta are a perfect match: The combination of the sweet, salty, unctuous meat and its the crunchy olive-oil-flavored framework is a great little mouthful of Spain.
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