National Hispanic Heritage Month, known as Mes Nacional de la Herencia Hispana, is celebrated between 15th September and 15th October, in recognition of Hispanic American contributions to American culture and history. The fact that the Spanish language is so widespread today dates back to Spanish conquests in the Americas, beginning in 1492. However, this American celebration distinguishes Spanish identity from Spanish American identity, after the Spanish American Wars of Independence established the desire for some form of autonomy against a background of Spanish Rule in Spanish America. One of the most recognisable Hispanic symbols is the infamous tortilla de patatas; although this dish is specifically Spanish, and each Hispanic country has its own individual cuisine and culture, it has somewhat become synonymous with the Spanish diaspora in general.
Tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelette) is something that you’ll find in abundance around Spain – it’s a staple in the Spanish diet and can be eaten warm or cold, at any time of day. Made with just five simple and cheap ingredients: potatoes, eggs, onion, olive oil and salt; it’s as familiar to them as a Sunday roast is to us. Its simplicity is due to its origins, which date back to the Carlist Wars, when the Spanish soldiers were so short of ingredients, they were forced to create something out of the very basics. The fact that it’s so inexpensive to make means that it has been enjoyed by all members of society for centuries. Purists will argue that you don’t need an onion, but it’s becoming more and more common to use in modern recipes to add to the flavour! Ultimately, each family will have their own individual way of making this traditional dish, which adds to its charm.
During lockdown, I took the opportunity to make a tortilla myself – I’ve listed the recipe below so that you can do the same.
To make the tortilla you’ll need:
- 4 huevos (4 eggs)
- 6 patatas (6 potatoes)
- 1 cebolla pequeña (1 small onion)
- 2 vasos de aceite de oliva (2 cups of olive oil)
- Sal (salt)
Method (serves 4):
- Peel and quarter the potatoes and then cut them into thin slices. Put them all in a bowl with a generous amount of salt, to draw out the water
- Chop the onion into small chunks and heat in some oil in a large frying pan
- Once the onion is completely soft, add all of the potatoes into the pan and add 2 cups of olive oil (trust me on this one!)
- Cook the potatoes for 25 minutes, until they’re soft
- Whisk the eggs in a separate bowl and add to the pan, mixing them well with the potatoes; cook for a further five minutes
- Put a plate on top of the frying pan flip over; enjoy!
I’ve enjoyed this dish whilst travelling all over Spain; from Madrid to Barcelona, Andalucía to Santander and Seville to Granada, it never disappoints. Each city serves it slightly differently to reflect regional traditions. In the capital, you’re likely to find tapas bars serving their traditional tortilla with jamon serrano (Serrano ham) or chorizo and pan tomate (tomato bread), whilst in the north, pintxos bars (bars serving little appetisers with a skewer through them, found in the Basque region), often serve a more solid version of the dish on a piece of toasted bread. Meanwhile, in the south, the dish is sometimes served with some kind of lamb. Cafés may even put the tortilla in a sandwich, doused in (yet more!) olive oil. The possibilities really are endless.
It’s hearty, filling and quintessentially Spanish and is the perfect way to pay homage to Hispanic culture. So, whilst we wait for travel restrictions to be relaxed, why not give this a go at home? Serve it with some spicy chorizo, a green salad and even some sangría if you’re feeling fancy, and you’re onto a winner.
Image: Alex Rigotti