Cultural Cuisine: Spain's Tortilla Española

Updated: May 6

Tortilla Española (Spanish tortilla), tortilla de patatas or tortilla de papas(both translate to tortilla of potatoes) is one of Spain's essential dishes and while it slightly varies by region, the heart of it remains the same: simple and naturally flavorful. Uncomplicated and with a large crowd appeal, I like to think of it as the cousin to the Italian frittata. One of my favorite things about Spanish cuisine is simple, easy to find ingredients. Living in Tbilisi, a lot of things are impossible to find but Spanish dishes are an easy go-to because they are always made with fresh, no-fuss ingredients!

Spanish legend has it that the dish was born during a series of civil wars in Spain known as the Carlist Wars. There are two origin stories, one says that famous Basque General Tomás de Zumalacárregui invented the Spanish tortilla during the siege of Bilbao. Like most times of war, men are hungry and food is sparse which meant the General had to come up with something simple and nutritious to satiate a worn and starving army. Thus, tortilla Española was born.

Another story says that a housewife invented it when Zumalacárregui stopped by and asked for something to eat. The woman didn't have a lot of money, as was common in those times. Her pantry held only a few eggs, potatoes, and onions. She whipped up what's now known as the Spanish tortilla and the General loved it so much that he spread it throughout the rest of Spain.

Like most traditional Spanish dishes, tortilla Española is made with simple and nutritious ingredients, this dish requires only egg, potato, onion, olive oil and a generous pinch of salt. Once you get the "flip" down, it's a dish that can be whipped up in 30 minutes or less and served many different ways. You can have it as the main entree, a side or serve it as a tapa.

It's also not uncommon to see it turned into a bocadillo (sandwich) by placing the omelet between a split baguette. Side note: The last place we lived in Spain, Las Gabias, has a spot called Cafe Bar La Familia that serves the absolute best! Danny, our friend who ran the cafe bar, always had his mom make me a fresh bocadillo de tortilla to go with my beer. It's also typical to enjoy a hearty slice around mid-morning with a steaming cup of cafe con leche.

Regardless of how you decide to serve it, this uncomplicated dish is an easy way to bring a bit of Spanish flair into your kitchen and indulge in one of Europe's most simple, yet flavorful cuisines!

Feel free to mix up the dish to your liking! What I am sharing with you is considered to be the most traditional and authentic version; hence, the excessive use of olive oil! ;) This dish varies slightly by region, in the Sierra Nevada you'll find that they tend to add Serrano ham and in Galicia, they go wild with seafood mixes. In Catalonia, they mainly stick with the traditional version while down south they tend to add some fresh veggies. I prefer mine traditional, with some fresh tomato, cilantro, and peppers along with some bravas if I had time to whip it up.

Let's start with the ingredients: Around 5 medium potatoes, medium onion, 4 eggs, 2 cups of olive oil and a generous pinch of salt.

**I strongly recommend halving or even quartering the amount of olive oil on your first try. It's an essential ingredient, but it can be tricky in a shallow pan the first go around. **

After you peel your potatoes, cut them into quarters and slice thinly. But not too thin, or they will all stick together!

Add 1 2/3 cups oil to pan and turn heat to high, add potatoes once oil is hot

Add your potatoes and turn heat to medium, allow potatoes to cook for around 5 minutes, stirring occasionally

While the potatoes are cooking, slice your onion, add to skillet and cook an additional 3-5 minutes, stirring.

While the potatoes and onions are doing their thing, go ahead and crack your eggs into a large bowl

Add that big ol' pinch of salt and get to beating!

Once the potatoes and onions are done, drain the oil. Messy sink full of potato peels: optional

After excess oil has drained, combine with eggs and let rest for 5-10 minutes

After rested, add the remaining olive oil to skillet and pour in mixture. Press down on the sides and wait about 3 minutes.

Try to resist these begging eyes in the meantime :)

Now comes the fun part, flipping! Grab a large plate and cover the top of the skillet, bring to the sink(in case of mess) and turn over. Take the empty skillet back to the stove and slide the plate's contents into the pan. This part takes a lot of practice! Be careful not to burn yourself and try to flip as fast as you can! This is why I recommend halving or even quartering the oil on your first try! Follow the photos below:

Allow the other side to cook for around 3 minutes on medium heat. The more you make it, the more you'll get to know which texture you prefer.

These two are getting ancy now that the house smells like buttered onion mmmmm!

¡Buen provecho! When finished, slide on a plate and serve.



• Potatoes, 5 medium (approx. 600 grams)

• 4 eggs, medium to large

• Onion, small or medium

• Olive Oil, 2 cups (475 ml)

• 1-2 tsp salt

**I strongly recommend halving, or even quartering the olive oil on your first try. Traditionally, Spanish tortillas are cooking in loaded of olive oil that strongly contributes to the simple, but flavorful characteristic of the dish. However, cooking with that much oil at first, can prove tricky to obtain the right amount of browning while keeping the inner portion a nice consistency. **


• Rinse + peel potatoes, cut into quarters and slice thinly

• Pour 1 3/4 cups olive oil into skillet. Turn to high, once hot, add potatoes and reduce heat to medium.

• Fry potatoes for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

• While potatoes are cooking, chop onion and add to potatoes. Cook for an additional 3-5 minutes.

• While the potato/onion mixture is cooking, crack and beat eggs with your big pinch of salt. Set aside.

• Once potato/onion mixture is finished, drain excess oil in strainer over the sink.

• Add potato/onion mixture to eggs and combine. Let rest for 5-10 minutes

• Pour remaining olive oil in skillet and heat. Add in mixture.

• Press down edges and let the mixture cook until set. Around 3 minutes.

• Grab a large plate and cover the top of the skillet, bring to the sink(in case of mess) and turn over. Take the empty skillet back to the stove and slide the plate's contents into the pan. Be careful not to burn yourself and try to flip as fast as you can! This is why I recommend halving or even quartering the oil on your first try!

• Let other side set for around 3 minutes with another tbsp of olive oil to coat pan,

• Once the texture is to your liking, slide onto a plate and serve!