Spanish omelette

Spanish omelette[1] or Spanish tortilla[2] is a traditional dish from Spain. Celebrated as a national dish by Spaniards, it is an essential part of the Spanish cuisine.[3] It is an omelette made with eggs and potatoes, optionally including onion. It is often served at room temperature as a tapa.

Spanish omelette
Spanish omelette in a pinchos bar in San Sebastián
Alternative names
Tortilla de patatas
Tortilla de papas
Tortilla española
Spanish tortilla
Potato omelete
CourseTapas, appetizer or main course
Place of originSpain
Serving temperatureEither warm or room temperature
Main ingredientsEgg, potatoes and onion

It is commonly known in Spanish-speaking countries as tortilla de patatas, tortilla de papas, or tortilla española.


Tortilla competition in the Basque Country in Northern Spain

The first reference to the tortilla in Spanish is found in a Navarrese document, as an anonymous "mousehole memorial" addressed to the court of Navarre in 1817. It explains the sparse conditions of Navarre's farmers in contrast with those in Pamplona (the capital) and la Ribera (in southern Navarre). After listing the sparse food eaten by highlanders, the next quote follows: "…two to three eggs in tortilla for 5 or 6 [people] as our women know how to make it big and thick with fewer eggs, mixing potatoes, breadcrumbs or whatever."[4]

According to legend, during the siege of Bilbao, Carlist general Tomás de Zumalacárregui invented the "tortilla de patatas" as an easy, fast and nutritious dish to satisfy the scarcities of the Carlist army. Although it remains unknown whether this is true, it appears the tortilla started to spread during the early Carlist Wars.[5]

Another tale is that the recipe was learnt by Spanish prisoners captured after the Battle of Montes Claros during the Portuguese Restoration War in 1665.[6] After the Portuguese victory, more than 6,000 Spanish soldiers were kept in captivity for 3 years until the 1668 Treaty of Lisbon was signed. Upon their release, these prisoners brought part of the culture of Alentejo to Spain, including many recipes, which featured a potato egg pie that evolved into the modern version of "tortilla".[7]


The word tortilla, in European Spanish as well as in some variants of Latin American Spanish, means omelette.[8][9] As such, a potato omelette is a tortilla de patatas or papas.[10][11]

As the dish has gained international popularity, and perhaps to avoid being confused with the thin flatbread made out of wheat or maize popular in Mexico and Central America, the española or Spanish naming gained traction. As such, 'Spanish omelette'[12][13] or 'Spanish tortilla'[14][15] are its common names in English, while tortilla española[9][13][16][17] is the formally accepted name even within the peninsula. In Spain, an omelette (made of beaten eggs fried with olive oil) is conversely known as tortilla francesa (lit.'French omelette').[18]

Tortilla is the diminutive form of torta, meaning 'small pancake'.[8][9]

Consumption and traditional recipe

The Spanish omelette is one of the most widely available dishes in Spain, also prepared in some Spanish-speaking countries.

The two main options are either with or without onion in it, with consumers almost always having a preference. The addition of onion is the cause of an unresolved dispute, pitting concebollistas (those advocating for the tortilla with onion) against sincebollistas (those considering the onion an attack against the dish's authenticity).[19] It may be related to the tenderness of the local varieties of potato. The indication of whether a tortilla includes onion or not is expected from restaurateurs, and industrial producers market both options.

A particularly runny "Betanzos" omelette, popular in Galicia and Madrid. They are normally made without onion, and rely heavily on the careful cooking of the potato.[20]

The most common procedure to cook a Spanish omelette is as follows:

  • The potatoes, ideally a starchy variety, are cut into thin slices or small dice.
  • They are then seasoned and sautéed in vegetable oil, traditionally olive oil, with sliced onions being added at this stage if used. These ingredients are stirred at a moderate temperature until they are soft but not brown.
  • The potatoes (and onions, if included) are then removed, drained, and mixed with whisked eggs.
  • This mixture is then returned to the pan and slowly cooked, turning the omelette to cook both sides.[1][21]
  • Once the eggs are cooked on one side, a plate is placed over the mixture so the pan can be inverted.
  • The mixture is then slipped back into the pan to cook the other side.[22]

The omelette may be eaten hot, at room temperature, or cold; it is commonly served as a tapa. As a tapa, it may be cut into bite-size pieces and served on cocktail sticks; a large tortilla can be cut into triangular portions (pincho de tortilla) to be eaten as a finger food.

Tortilla Day

Día de la Tortilla ("Tortilla Day") is a popular festivity celebrated in many towns in southern and western Spain. Its date varies depending on the town; however, it normally coincides with the Thursday before Lent, the first day of Carnival, also known as "Jueves Lardero" (Fat Thursday). Many towns in eastern Spain have a similar celebration on that day. Traditionally, the inhabitants of each town go to a nearby rural area where they spend the day among family members and friends, eating Spanish tortillas and other foods, and playing games.[23]

See also

  • Tapas  Appetizer or snack in Spanish and international cuisine
  • Spanish cuisine  Culinary traditions of Spain
  • Tortilla  Thin, flat, unleavened bread originally made from corn, a Mexican flat bread
  • Frittata  Egg-based Italian dish
  • Kuku  Food
  • Tunisian tajine  Berber dish prepared in the earthenware pot of the same name


  1. "Real Spanish omelette". Retrieved 10 January 2016.
  2. "Spanish Tortilla". Food Network. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  3. Reyes Baztán 2021, pp. 152–153.
  4. (Spanish) Los "memoriales de ratonera" eran escritos que cualquier ciudadano navarro podía depositar en un buzón ("ratonera") cuando se reunían las Cortes; véase José María Iribarren: "El comer, el vestir y la vida de los navarros de 1817, a través de un 'memorial de ratonera'", in Príncipe de Viana vol. 17 no. 65 (1956), pp. 473-486.
  5. Jack, Albert (2010). What Caesar Did For My Salad: The Secret Meanings of our Favourite Dishes. Penguin. p. 368. ISBN 9780141929927
  6. Tuell, Marcus (1952). History of War in the Iberian Peninsula. Baltimore: William & Wilkins Publishing House. pp. 242–244
  7. White, L. (2007). Strategic Geography and the Spanish Habsburg Monarchy's Failure to Recover Portugal, 1640-1668. The Journal of Military History, 71(2), 373-409. JSTOR 413827
  8. "Tortilla | Definition of Tortilla by Lexico". Lexico Dictionaries | English. Archived from the original on November 2, 2019. Retrieved 2019-11-02.
  9. ASALE, RAE-. "tortilla". «Diccionario de la lengua española» - Edición del Tricentenario (in Spanish). Retrieved 2019-11-02.
  10. ASALE, RAE-. "patata". «Diccionario de la lengua española» - Edición del Tricentenario (in Spanish). Retrieved 2019-11-02.
  11. ASALE, RAE-. "papa¹; papa²; papa³". «Diccionario de la lengua española» - Edición del Tricentenario (in Spanish). Retrieved 2019-11-02.
  12. Cloake, Felicity (2010-07-29). "How to make a perfect Spanish omelette". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-11-02.
  13. "Tortilla Española | Definition of Tortilla Española by Lexico". Lexico Dictionaries | English. Archived from the original on November 2, 2019. Retrieved 2019-11-02.
  14. Bittman, Mark. "Spanish Tortilla Recipe". NYT Cooking. Retrieved 2019-11-02.
  15. "Spanish tortilla recipe | Jamie Oliver egg recipes". Jamie Oliver. Retrieved 2019-11-02.
  16. "Tortilla Española - Cultura española". Retrieved 2019-11-02.
  17. Vigo, Faro de. "La auténtica tortilla española". Retrieved 2019-11-02.
  18. Moraleda, Alba (24 December 2020). "Por qué la tortilla francesa es mejor que la española para tu salud" [Why the French omelette is better than the Spanish omelette for your health]. El Español (in Spanish).
  19. Reyes Baztán 2021, p. 166.
  20. 20Minutos, "Poco hecha y sin cebolla, ¿es la tortilla de Betanzos la mejor del mundo?" - 5 octubre 2020
  21. "Trucos para Preparar una Deliciosa Tortilla de Patatas" [Tricks for making a delicious potato tortilla]. (in Spanish). Retrieved 10 January 2016. A typical recipe
  22. Cloake, Felicity (2010-07-29). "How to make a perfect Spanish omelette". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-07-06.
  23. "Origen del Día de la Tortilla". 9 March 2022. {{cite web}}: |first= missing |last= (help)
  • Reyes Baztán, Maria (2021). "Potatoes and nation-building: the case of the Spanish omelette, Journal of Iberian and Latin American Studies". 27 (2): 151–170. doi:10.1080/14701847.2021.1939529. S2CID 235700520. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
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