In the world of food few dishes are more Catalan than the sandwich called the Bikini, named for the famed concert hall in Les Cortes where vendors have sold them as a snack to concert-goers since before anyone can remember. These days the tasty grilled sandwich has become a staple bar snack to fuel hungry revelers in Barcelona’s famous late-night scene, a light afternoon repast with a glass of rosé and even a morning breakfast treat with coffee. Its versatility is what makes it at home on so many menus.
The traditional Bikini is a straightforward affair – a simple combination of cheese and ham for which Spain’s is famous are layered on white bread, often with the crust cut off and grilled to a golden brown. But this isn’t your standard deli grilled ham and cheese. The result is a thin, sumptuous and gooey snack that melts in the mouth and dazzles the taste buds. You’ll find them on cafe menus or even in grocery markets, normally pre-made and ready to kiss the griddle.
Throughout Catalonia, and especially in Barcelona chefs are also finding creative ways to elevate this humble staple to the next level with a little imagination and quality ingredients. Take for example the bikini at Tapas 24, the Carles Abellan restaurant that’s garnered much attention in the Graçia neighborhood of Barcelona. His Bikini Comerç combines succulent Iberico ham with cheese and black truffle paste that is truly beautiful. The bread is pressed flat and the result is a crispy thin outer layer that lets the ingredients inside shine.
If you’re looking for a spicier take on the classic, stop into Saga’s in the Born neighborhood and grab their version. Imagine the traditional Bikini’s Italian cousin. piquant spreadable soppressata salami is nestled between the toasted layers of bread with buffalo mozzarella. The icing on the proverbial cake is a drizzle of rich rosemary honey. The flavors blend perfectly together with the sweet honey, spicy meat and gooey cheese singing together in perfect harmony.
A truly unique version can be found out of the way in Cadaqués, just up the coast from Barcelona. Bar Maritim serves up a Mediterranean-influenced sandwich featuring truffle mozzarella and marinated anchovies, again served on simple grilled white bread. The salty anchovies compete playfully with the fragrant truffle to create what is nothing less than a sublime experience that you can have while soaking in the sun and watching the boats rock lazily in the harbor. You may not be able to get to this remote little resort village but you can make your own at home with just a little assembly and a hot pan.
Whether you opt for a traditional or modern take, the Bikini sandwich is truly a cozy Spanish specimen that can become addictive. You may even be tempted to eat more than one. A bit of good advice is to take a friend along – you’ll want to order a third to split.