Tortilla de Patata

Written by Gabriela Navarro



The food I have chosen to write about is tortilla de patata, or spanish omelette. Food historian Charles Perry describes Spanish cuisine as “an existential sort of cuisine with a tough, dogged, living on the edge character”. I would have to agree, as Spain is a country of fallen monarchies, civil wars, and hearty people who have survived on the fruit of the land and the sea without much frivolity or decoration. I have chosen to write about one of my favorite dishes as a kid that I ate spending summers with my Spanish side of the family in Valladolid, a city in the Northern region of Spain. Hearty, filling and comforting best describe this nostalgic dish. I remember that no matter where I went or whatever family I was spending time with there would be a tortilla de patata. It’s comforting, consisting of fluffy potatoes and eggs and eaten with fresh pan de hoy, a french baguette that is commonly served with Spanish cured sausage, olive oil, salt and thick tomato slices. Tortilla de patata at its core is a simple dish made with the essentials of spanish cuisine- olive oil, potatoes, and eggs, and depending on who is making it, onions and green peppers. The first written reference of tortilla de patata is found in an 1817 Navarese document, a Basque autonomous province in the North close to the border of France. A region’s court describes the women cooking a meal with two or three eggs for 5 or 6 people mixing it with potatoes and bread crumbs to compensate for their sparse living conditions as highlander farmers. The popularity of the tortilla de patata spread after the 19th century Carlist Wars. Legend tells of the general Tomás de Zumalacárregui introducing the dish to supplement soldiers when they had scarce supplies. Another story claims that Spanish soldiers who were held captive for three years after the Portuguese Restoration War in 1665 brought the dish home with them from Alentejo. Regardless of its origins, it is apparent that this dish was born of scarcity and ingenuity, and it remains widespread and massively popular to this day. In modern Spain, the dish can be found in every region and with its own variations. The dish can be served cold, hot, or at room temperature, well done or runny, and can be served in slices as a quick lunch or cut in small cubes as tapas served with drinks. The beauty of this dish is that anyone can cook it and the ingredients are simple to attain. A few years ago I decided to cook my own in California, away from my family and childhood memories I wanted to bring a piece of Spain into my kitchen. No onions or peppers, I was going to make the version my abuela made and the kind my dad taught me. After peeling and cooking potatoes for what felt like hours, the potatoes are ready to cook in a mixture of a couple eggs and more olive oil than you would think is necessary but is essential for the warm mediterran flavor. Cooked under a plate for almost an hour, the tortilla is ready when it is fluffy and bouncy on top and has turned a sunny yellow speckled with golden brown. After all of this laborious cooking, the reward of this dish is how many people you can share it with. Overall, I would hesitate to ever compare this dish to a french omelette, because it is not the skill or the ingredients that make it complete. It's a food that is perfect because it makes no claim to add any complication to a good meal spent with friends and family.

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