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The controversial history of the Spanish tortilla – and the strict rules for making your own

The humble Spanish tortilla seems like a simple recipe – an egg and potato omelet, possibly including onion – loved by many vacationers, however, new research suggests it has been used by General Francisco Franco for political purposes; as a secret weapon to strengthen national pride.

Franco’s Tourism Directorate asked hoteliers to avoid serving regional stews as they had odd flavors that might put off tourists and instead serve tortillas and other famous Spanish dishes.

Franco, who died in 1975 after nearly 40 years as head of state, ordered the Tourism Directorate to ensure that holidaymakers only taste “Spanish dishes”.

“During Franco’s dictatorship, the promotion of national cuisine in general was an important part of the nationalization program and was seen as an important national symbol,” said researcher María Reyes Baztán.

“His obsession with promoting everything Spanish and purely national made the tortilla one of the most famous and popular dishes in Spanish gastronomy.”

General Francisco Franco Bahamonde circa 1967 (Photo: Dominique Berretty / Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Reyes Baztán, 27, a Spanish doctoral student at the University of Warwick, looked at how the tortilla has been manipulated for political purposes since the 19th century in an attempt to promote the image of a united Spain, despite regional conflicts.

His research thesis 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 argues that a series of influential writers and cooks helped create this image of the omelet as a symbol of Spanish identity.

Emilia Pardo Bazán, an influential Spanish intellectual and writer 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 nationalize Spanish cuisine,” writes Ms. Reyes Baztán.

Dionisio Pérez, a writer from Miguel Primo de Rivera’s previous dictatorship between 1923 and 1930, was commissioned to write a cookbook to defend the Spanish character of the omelet against foreign competitors.

“He even claimed that the dishes attributed to the French like the omelette or the tortilla francesa were in fact Spanish,” Ms. Reyes Baztán said.

She said the connection between politics and the tortilla came to her mind during a conversation one evening with a friend at college.

Dos and don’ts of making a tortilla, according to Maria Reyes Baztán

DO: Make with eggs, oil (olive or sunflower) and potatoes. Onions are optional

DON’T: Use chorizo, crisps, eggplant, peppers – unless you want to draw the wrath of all of Spain

The tortilla, which was originally considered a working-class dish until it was adopted by the Spanish middle classes, has sparked a series of controversies.

Most revolve around whether or not to use onions, with purists insisting that no real tortilla should contain these dirty bulbs, while others think they add a welcome sweetness.

Ferran Adrià, the chef whose restaurant El Bulli has been crowned best in the world five times by Restaurant magazine, outraged public opinion by using crisps and served it in a cocktail glass.

Maria Sanahuja, food journalist for the Spanish-language daily El Pais, said: “Adria caused a sensation because he used crisps that are not real potatoes. They just aren’t. It’s like using quinoa on a full English breakfast.

Ms. Sanahuja said that the tortilla is a dish that is identified with all regions 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 his pintxos – food on sticks. But tortillas are present all over Spain, ”she said. I.


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