The divisive history of Spanish tortilla – and the strict rules for making your own – iNews
The humble Spanish tortilla seems like a simple recipe – an omelette made with eggs and potatoes, optionally including onion – enjoyed by many holidaymakers, however, new research suggests it was used by General Francisco Franco for political purposes; as a secret weapon to boost national pride.
Franco’s Directorate of Tourism asked hoteliers to avoid serving regional stews because they had strange flavours that might put tourists off and instead serve tortillas and other famous Spanish dishes.
Franco, who died in 1975 after nearly 40 years as head of state, ordered the Directorate of Tourism to ensure that holidaymakers only tasted “Spanish dishes”.
“During Franco’s dictatorship, the promotion of national cuisine in general was an important element of the nationalising agenda and was seen as an important national symbol,” said researcher María Reyes Baztán.
“His obsession with promoting everything that was Spanish and purely national turned the tortilla into one of the most celebrated and popular dishes of Spanish gastronomy.”
Reyes Baztán, 27, a Spanish PhD student at Warwick University, has delved into how the tortilla has been manipulated for political ends since the 19th century onwards to try to promote the image of a united Spain, despite regional conflicts.
Her research paper entitled Potatoes and Nation Building: The case of the Spanish Omelette, was recently published in the Journal of Iberian and Latin American Studies.
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She contends that a series of influential writers and cooks helped create this image of the omelette as a symbol of Spanish identity.
Emilia Pardo Bazán, a Spanish intellectual and writer who was influential at the start of the 20th century, included the tortilla in a series of cookbooks.
“In Bazán’s cookbooks the tortilla was also used as a tool to nationalise the Spanish cuisine,” writes Ms Reyes Baztán.
Dionisio Pérez, a writer during the earlier dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera between 1923 and 1930, was commissioned to write a cookbook to defend the Spanishness of the omelette against foreign contenders.
“He even claimed that dishes attributed to the French such as the omelette or tortilla francesa were actually Spanish,” said Ms Reyes Baztán.
She said the link between politics and the tortilla came to mind over a conversation one night with a friend at university.
DO: Make with eggs, oil (olive or sunflower) and potatoes. Onions are optional
DO NOT: Use chorizo, crisps, aubergines, peppers – unless you want to attract the wrath of all Spain
The tortilla, which was originally seen as a working-class dish until it became adopted by the Spanish middle classes, has sparked a series of controversies.
Most revolve around whether or not to use onions, with purists insisting no real tortilla should contain these filthy bulbs, while others believe they add some welcome sweetness.
Ferran Adrià, the chef whose El Bulli restaurant was crowned best in the world five times by Restaurant magazine, scandalised public opinion by using crisps and served it in a cocktail glass.
Maria Sanahuja, a food journalist with Spanish-language daily newspaper, El Pais, said: “Adria caused a stir because he used crisps which are not proper potatoes. They just aren’t. It is like using quinoa on a full English breakfast.”
Ms Sanahuja said the tortilla is a dish which is identified with all parts of Spain.
“In contrast, paella originates from Valencia or Alicante, Catalonia is known for a distinctive sausage called butifarra or pan con tomate (bread and tomatoes), Galicia is famous for peppered octopus and the Basque Country is proud of its pintxos – food on sticks. But tortillas are present across Spain,” she told i.
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