Anthony Fragola Temple in Spain

A Ton of Tortilla

Some already know this while others may not, but Tortilla means something completely different in Spain than it does in Latin America. When we hear the word tortilla in the US, most of us think of the thin, circular disks made with corn or flour that we either fill with meat/cheese/vegetables and fold up as tacos, fajitas or burritos:

or cut up, fry and eat with salsa, guacamole or queso:

You can also do other things with them, like stuff them, roll them, cover them in tomato and cheese and bake them (enchiladas) or put cheese, meat and whatever other fillings between two of them and grill them until they inside is melty and delicious (quesadillas).

However, when Spaniards hear the word tortilla, rarely do they think of these. In Spain, this is tortilla:

A monstrous combination of eggs, potatoes and occasionally onions, this is a very typical dish in Spain. Many claim to know how to make it the ‘right way’ and some insist that their mom’s is the best. Either way, Tortilla Española is made by cooking potatoes (either chunks or slices, I’ve seen both) and onions in a skillet and then adding about half a dozen scrambled eggs (or more depending on the size). The mixture is cooked slowly in the skillet until the bottom half firms up. Then comes the fun part – flipping it. I have yet to see it done, but I’ve heard horror stories about when flipping the tortilla has gone terribly wrong. At this stage of the game, you have to place a place over the skillet, flip the entire assembly over, remove the skillet so the firm side is facing up and the liquidy side is down on the plate and slide the mass of patatas and huevos back into the skillet to cook the other half. Sounds like fun, right? I know! My host mom is going to teach me how to make it before I leave. I am one happy camper 😀

Anyway, I’ve had a lot of Tortilla Española since I’ve been in Spain. Okay, that’s an understatement. I’ve had a ton. But last night I found the perfect opportunity to indulge – a tortilla competition. Gijón, the biggest city in Asturias situated on the northern coast, is hosting the second annual Campeonato (championship) of Tortilla. With over 62 restaurants participating and approximately 90 varieties, this event was extremely successful last year, serving over 25,000 pinchos, or smaller snack-sized portions.

Dios mío my mouth was watering just thinking about going. And they all cost between 1 and 1,50 euros. Score! So yesterday, I hopped on a bus to Gijón to meet my Tándem partner Soraya, our friend Sarai and a few of their friends to try some interesting takes on this traditional Spanish dish.

We started off by trying a few restaurants serving their versions of tortilla tradicional. Some were good, others great. Some were looser while others were more firm. Some had onion, others forbid it. After getting warmed up though, we got a little daring. We went to Las 3 Marías, a small bar/restaurant on Calle Numa Gilohu and tried their Tortilla Paisana María, which had peas, peppers and tuna. I thought it was very, very good. I’d probably go so far as to say it was my favorite of the night. Others may disagree, but to each his own, right?

Our next stop was Restaurante Ciudadela to try their croqueta de tortilla de camarones (squid tortilla croquette). For those who don’t know, croquettes are these little fried dumplings, for lack of a better word, with a filling of flour mixed with béchamel sauce and, you guessed it, usually jamón (ham). Well, how on earth did this restaurant make a croquette with tortilla on the inside? I don’t really know. It was crispy on the outside, the inside had the soft yet solid texture of tortilla and, as someone said, tasted ‘of the sea.’ He said it in Spanish of course, but it made me laugh. To top it off, this pincho was served with wasabi pearls (?) on top and a wasabi dipping mayonnaise sauce on the side. It was definitely the most interesting tortilla I had tasted last night, but it was also very good.

Our last stop was La Iglesiana Restaurante. We were literally on the verge of running at this point because we wanted to squeeze in one more stop and the last bus for Oviedo was leaving shortly. And here, the buses leave ON TIME! Madness! We split up to find it, ran inside once we did and ordered three pinchos of tortilla with cod and octopus caramel. I know, I know, it sounds very, very strange but I wasn’t going to play it safe in a Tortilla Competition. Come on. Unfortunately, they had changed their pincho so we had to settle for one with ham and squid. How boooooooooring, right? I eat squid all the time in Spain. It was pretty good, I’ll give them that, but it wasn’t my favorite. After we scarfed down the tortilla, which was served with a squid ink sauce that I thought elevated the dish, we hurriedly threw on our jackets. Interesting side note: when I ran to the bar to pay, the bartender/waiter (they have one word for them here – camarero) asked if I was French. “No, soy de Estados Unidos” I said quickly, threw him a “Gracias, hasta luego” and ran out the door. I did catch my bus on time (phew), found a different way to walk home and chatted with my host mom about the differences in how quickly people gain independence and move out of the home between Spain and the US. What a good night! I may have to go back to Gijón this weekend. The Campeonato doesn’t end until Sunday…

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