There aren’t many things as radically antithetical to the essence of
the Spaniard as fast food restaurants.


By Jack Wright

Rodilla rang in 2015 with the announcement of a donation of 20,000 sandwiches to NGOs, this being equal to the number of leftover sandwiches consigned to the thrash can by the Spanish fast food chain annually.

Good idea. The number of impoverished Spaniards has spiked as a result of the Spanish government’s austerity program and food, even highly perishable sandwiches, as opposed to preserved canned goods, for example, is very much welcome in food banks.

Cocido Madrileño: Madrilenian stew, a very popular dish served in three "vuelcos" or servings, each vuelco is in itself a ritual

Cocido Madrileño: Madrilenian stew, a very popular dish served in three “vuelcos” or servings, each vuelco is in itself a ritual

There aren’t many things as radically antithetical to the essence of the Spaniard as fast food restaurants. You don’t jump the line, so to speak, when you sit down to the 2:00 pm lunch and 9:00 pm dinners. You go one step at a time, from the aperitivo through the first dish, the main course, a rich, preferably casero (homemade) dessert, to coffee – all the while taking your time savoring your Rioja if not Ribera. And things may not end there; you might – must? – top off your coffee with licor de anis.

While the exalted meal lasts, there’s passionate talk criss-crossing the table about earthshaking world events and the forthcoming Real Madrid – Atlético de Madrid derby.

You’ll need at least two hours to go through the unabridged ritual and when it’s done the prospect of a siesta is sheer soporific bliss.

Take all this away from the Spaniard and you’ll find you’ve scooped his heart out of him, the heart that you access through his stomach!

So, given this state of affairs, who in his right mind would tell the Spaniard to just go grab a sandwich?

McDonald’s has of course actually done it and with a measure of success too, mostly among young Spaniards. But then that’s idiosyncratic Yankee daring. Would a native dare. Oddly, yes. Moreover, he did so long before anyone in Spain ever heard of Big Mac. After all, that signature sandwich was invented only in 1967 and, more importantly, there was no McDonald’s in Spain until 1981 when the first restaurant opened on Gran Via in Madrid.

The first fast-food restaurant in Spain – at least that which continues to exist from the time of its founding to this day – is Rodilla. It was born at the Plaza de Callao in Madrid, not far from the first McDonald’s, on the Christmas Eve of 1939 out of the need to make use of the unwanted parts of the meat in Antonio Rodilla’s charcuterie family business.

It boggles the mind how one could possibly think of founding a sandwich business amidst the physical, emotional and economic ruins brought about by the three-year one-million-fatality Spanish Civil War that had ended just months earlier. Young Antonio Rodilla, a native of Salamanca, north of Madrid, even thought of – and went ahead — creating sandwiches of “refined” crustless sliced bread that was stranger to the palate of a people used to munching man-sized bocatas of the hard-crust baguettes.

It’s even a bigger wonder that Rodilla prospered against the staggering odds. Today, a meal at this pioneering fast-food restaurant could consist of salad, a couple or so of cold and/or hot sandwiches chosen for their fillings of which there are something like 30 varieties, some traditional pastry for dessert, and beer or soft drink.

The most popular of these is the ensaladilla (potato salad) sandwich of which more than one million is sold a year. Rodilla has now some 200 restaurants in major cities of Spain but there’s no question about it, it will always be a Madrileño at heart.

“Fast food” suffers from something like stigma in Spain, which is understandable, and Rodilla can’t quite make up its mind whether to be glad or lament being classified as a fast food restaurant. Eloy Pozo, marketing director of the Rodilla Group, actually sees his restaurant as an “alternative” to fast food ( where “one can eat in a short time. . . But,” he says, “if by fast food we mean low quality food, then Rodilla is not.”

What makes Rodilla different from (other) fast food restaurants is the artisanal way in which the sandwiches are prepared, which are mostly in accordance with Mediterranean recipes, and the ingredients which are fresh and of the highest quality. Or, at least that’s what Eloy Pozo says.

It seems Rodilla, and like others, must spend at least part of the time “apologizing” for being “fast food.” But that’s no stumbling block to success.


Medrilenian cocido: .   CC-By-SA 2.0