Barcelona is a culinary capital offering a wide and wild variety of cuisines and creative dishes. However, grazing on tapas and dining in fine restaurants can be both wearing on the wallet and bruising on the palate.
There sometimes comes a time when you just want something more ordinary, a light bite to fill a hole while out and about.
Well, you could try a Bikini.
Yes, Bikini. When wandering around the city you’ll see the word Bikini scrawled on chalkboards outside snack bars. It’s a very popular snack, probably the most popular snack after the ubiquitous patates braves [patatas bravas in castellano].
A Bikini is a grilled ham and cheese sandwich.
The name, Bikini, is unique to Barcelona and Catalunya. Try ordering a Bikini outside of Catalunya and you’ll prompt incomprehension, a measure of confusion, and perhaps a little argument; in Spain a Bikini is known as a mixto.
The sandwich, similar to un croque monsieur in France, is said to have been so christened here, in Barcelona, in 1953.
To check out the history of the Bikini GO HERE
There are two food tests for any snack bar in Barcelona — the Braves test and the Bikini test.
If you can find a snack bar in each barrio which serves both to your liking at a fair price then stick with them, you’d be surprised how many places manage to screw up these two basic snacks.
Local bars in our barrio in Eixample Dreta charge between 2€ and 2,50€ for a pretty good, ordinary Bikini. And, I know of a bar fairly near the centre which will serve you a Bikini for only 1€.
Snack 55 on Passeig de Sant Joan, offers a huge Bikini for 3,50€.
However, the going rate for a standard Bikini is between 2,10€ and 3€. If you’re paying more than 4€ then it had better be either a very large, or a damn good Bikini. (Unfortunately the Bikini offered at Velódromo is not, in my opinion, worth the 4€ they charge).
I use three food offerings as a Barcelona inflation and location barometer: Menùs del Días, Patates braves and the Bikini.
The price of a Bikini can give an indication as to how prosperous a particular neighbourhood is. For example, you’ll find that the cost of a Bikini in, say, Sant Gervasi, is likely to be between 50 cents and 1€ more than in Eixample Dreta, and likely as much as 1,20€ more than in Poble Nou or Poble Sec.
If you keep your eyes open you’ll see many snack bars (or granjas) offer a deal of a Bikini with a cup of coffee, or a beer or a soft drink for around 2,50€, especially on weekday mornings. Just look for ‘Oferta’ on the chalkboards.
Simple but tricky
The Bikini is a very simple snack, but seemingly difficult to get right.
Two slices of white or brown (integral) sliced bread (pan de molde) shouldering at least one slice (preferably two) of pernil York [jamón York = processed ham] or pernil dolç [jamón dulce] and at least one slice (preferably two slices) of cheese.
This is where some of the problems arise — which kind of cheese? Fundido? That sticky, pallid processed stuff? Or sandwich slices…? Or slices of Emmenthal? Gruyere? More often than not the standard Bikini uses queso fundido — processed cheese.
The bread should be grilled, not toasted, and certainly NEVER microwaved.
Some cooks smear a little oil on the bread before grilling, most don’t.
And that’s it. Nothing complicated.
However, despite its simplicity, a Bikini can be too soggy, too greasy, too cold, too dry or simply undercooked. They can be served with crusts and with crusts removed.
Many snack bars serve their Bikinis with a knife, fork and napkin, others don’t.
You may come across a Trikini — (sometimes spelled: Triquini) a Bikini with the addition of a fried egg and bacon.
- Paco Meralgo offer an Italoibérico Bikini — which uses jamón iberico in place of processed ham.
- Velódromo offer what they call a Bikini de Bologna — which replaces the jamón with truffled mortadella, and the queso fundido (processed cheese) with mozzarella. It will cost you 6,80€.
- La Llesca de Bailèn will serve you a Bill Bikini if you ask very nicely— yes, that’s right — I have a sandwich named after me — a Bikini with the addition of lightly braised onion. And, very tasty it is too.