Thursday 23 July 2009

Out of the Frying Pan ...

By Richard Morley.
Native English speakers who indulge in the pleasant pastime of conversing with Spaniards to help them improve their language skills learn many things about the Spanish culture. Through the English villages I attend and in normal day to day conversation with people I meet in Madrid I have found out more things about this wonderful country than years of “Two weeks in Benidorm” vacationers will ever know – or likely to be interested in, frankly. But that’s their loss.

However, after hours, sometimes days, of non-stop chatter subjects become harder to find. I have two sure-fire ways of restarting the conversation.
Number one: Ask them where the best wine in Spain comes from, and Two, how do you make the best tortilla patatas, the authentic Spanish omelette?

The first can provoke a usually good natured discussion with each participant selecting their favourite region.

The second can start a war!

You see, if you ask any woman that simple question, her answer will be, “My grandmother has the best recipe”, and she will, hopefully, tell you what it is. The problem is that every woman will have at least two grandmothers and those Spanish grandmothers, or their recipes, are not to be taken lightly.

Should your conversational partner be foolish enough to reveal her grandmother’s secrets in the presence of another woman who has her own set of ancient female relatives, then having cocked the trigger, stand well back and try not to get hit in the cross-fire.

Let’s break down the variables:
Number and size of eggs.
Ditto with the potatoes.
Onions or not.
Potatoes boiled or fried.
Potatoes sliced or diced.
Onions fine or coarse.
Potatoes cooked with onions.
Method of turning tortilla in pan.
I have seen looks of disbelief on other grand-daughter’s faces when a perfectly rational woman explains how their grandmother makes this simple dish. No, “disbelief” is the wrong word. It suggests the other ladies present retorting mildly with “I can’t believe she does it that way”. What is actually said, loudly and with feeling, is, “That’s wrong. My grandmother would / never would …” and so on.

And there are a huge number of Grandmothers.

AND EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM IS RIGHT! I, a mere male, would be foolish to suggest otherwise.

As an unmarried guiri I differ from Spanish men in that I do not have a woman, mother, girl-friend or wife, to cook for me. Luckily I enjoy cooking and having lived here for a while like to try out Spanish recipes. And a tortilla patatas is only an omelette with potatoes (and onions – definitely onions). What could possibly go wrong?

¿Es fácil, no?

Well, no! My first efforts had the appearance of yellowing cow-pats. Not a nice thing to contemplate eating. But I persevered and got better. And a short time ago I created the culinary masterpiece that was MY tortilla patatas. It looked good, resembling a white speckled pale yellow flying saucer. And it tasted good. I was proud of it.

Pride is a sin.

Pride commeth before a fall.

It was late evening. I sat back and regarded my empty plate and sensed my full, satisfied stomach and had to tell someone. In this modern age this is easy to do. I sat down at my keyboard and announced to the world, or to at least my three friends on face book, that I had just eaten the best tortilla patatas in Madrid – and that I had cooked it myself. If I expected congratulations, I was wrong.

“Any food cooked by the English is terrible”, complained one. “It is not possible for English people to cook Spanish food”, opined another. “That would be like me saying I could cook ´Bubble and Squeak*´, declared one señorita who normally likes anything British. “I can’t believe it”, doubted someone I had thought of as a friend. I could sense the earth trembling as many Grandmothers began revolving in their graves.

The comments went on and on. Although there was one Spanish lady, who now rose highly in my esteem, who wrote, “Mmm. Save some for me”, but most were expressing the opinion that a British male could not cook Spanish food as if combining eggs, potatoes and onion were some special Iberian talent that no one without generations of Spaniards in their family tree could possibly have .

A couple of weeks later I was discussing the possibility of having a picnic with a group of friends. One of them suggested I should cook a tortilla and bring it to the meal where they would all see if what I declared was true. Talk about the Spanish Inquisition! I could feel the flames as they tied me to the stake of culinary heresy.

The picnic never took place, but what if it had? Would my efforts have been scorned? Would the opposite occur and I disprove this myth that tortilla making is somehow genetically Spanish? Would several Spanish señoritas have thrown themselves at my feet and proposed marriage? Hmm! Let’s not get carried away.

I mean, I reiterate. It’s just eggs, potatoes and onions, no?

A month later I made “Huevos Estrelladas”. This is a fancy Spanish name for egg, ham and chips (French fries). I excelled myself. I will never order the dish in a restaurant or tapas bar again. They couldn’t compete. It was fantastic. But this time I told no one. I can’t stand to see the Spanish cry!

*Bubble and squeak is a simple English meal made by frying mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts and is absolutely delicious.

Nice comments, this is a family blog, can be posted below.


  1. We bought a tortilla pan at Cortes in Fuengirolla. What a brilliant invention.

  2. I agree with you. The best tortilla is the homemade one, and usually the best one in Spain, because you had made it to your own taste. So, as I said, the best one is Spain is MY tortilla.
    By the way, have you tried to make the potatoes and onions in the microwave? One uses much less oil.

  3. Funny thing is that Latin Americans have the same sorts of wars over things like arroz con pollo, cebiche, sancocho (a type of stew), arepa (a type of corn tortilla), and...yes, you guessed it....tortillas!

  4. Hahahaha, I have to admit that your tortilla looks good at pictures, but I don't know about the real taste ;-) (Ah, for me, finding some onion into the tortilla is the worst thing in the world!!!).

  5. Well done on your efforts! I only wish mine turned out so good!

    A spanish friend told me yesterday that he went to a tortilla competition at the weekend. People bring their tortillas all hoping to win. They are cut up into small pieces, and the the judges taste them briefly, and give a score. The one with the highest score wins. Yet, nothing was said about the ingredients used!

    I also saw a similar item on the news a few weeks ago. I learn a lot about spanish culture by watching the news!