The Inspiration Behind Anthony Bourdain's Mortadella Sandwich

Anthony Bourdain ate some interesting things over his long career, and the celebrated chef and author translated his love of international cuisine and culture into his 2016 cookbook, "Appetites." Among the many memorable recipes Bourdain shared in "Appetites" was a spicy Macau-style pork sandwich he called one of his best and a beloved five-ingredient mortadella sandwich. Bourdain's travels highly influenced his recipes, and such is the case with his simple mortadella sandwich, inspired by a meal he had in Brazil. 

On his first visit to São Paulo, the very first thing Bourdain did was head over to the Bar Do Mané to try its legendary mortadella sandwich, which would later become the inspiration for his own recipe. Bar Do Mané is a small restaurant tucked away inside of the Mercado Municipal, a historic indoor marketplace founded in 1933 that is traversed by locals and tourists alike. Bar Do Mané was established in the same year as the market, but it wasn't until the 1970s that its mortadella sandwich became popular. One customer asked for more filling in their sandwich, and ever since then, Bar Do Mané has been piling its mortadella high with an average of 350 grams per sandwich (that's roughly ¾ of a pound!). It's no wonder Bourdain called the mortadella sandwich São Paulo's "guilty pleasure" in Season 3, Episode 4, of his travel food show, "No Reservations."

Bourdain's version of Bar Do Mané's mortadella sandwich

Bar Do Mané credits its mortadella sandwich for making it so famous. The restaurant has received hundreds of reviews on Tripadvisor, most of which highlight the delicious mortadella sandwich. One reviewer called it the "best mortadella sandwich I had in my entire life!!!"

In it, pan-fried mortadella and melted yellow cheese are sandwiched between a Portuguese roll (a crusty and airy bun) — just meat, cheese, and bread. This simple combination of ingredients is what Anthony Bourdain describes in his cookbook, "Appetites," as a "rite of passage for visitors to the city — a beloved heap of oozing awesomeness, a reflection (or mutation?) of Brazil's proud and powerful Italian dimension." Italian immigrants, who came to Brazil in the millions during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, brought mortadella to Brazil. 

In Bourdain's version of the sandwich, as depicted in "Appetites," he opted for provolone cheese, sourdough or Kaiser rolls, and some mustard and mayo. It's easy to envision how the mustard and mayo work well as saucy additions to the sandwich, and the mustard particularly brings a peppery kick. Provolone is an equally thoughtful choice with its nutty and sharp undertones. As for what mortadella tastes like, it's fatty, rich, and delicately spiced, similar to an elevated bologna. Bourdain's mortadella sandwich does not stray far from its source of inspiration at the Bar Do Mané, but these subtle changes let his personality shine through.