And while we’re at it, the most popular drink certainly isn’t sangría.
Source: No Hurries, No Worries
Go to any touristy town in Spain, and you’ll inevitably see them—the signs outside restaurants offering different types of paella. Yellow, black, with seafood, without seafood, authentic, decidedly inauthentic—you’ll see it all. After all, all Spaniards love paella and it eat it all the time, right? It could even be called Spain’s national dish, no? And if you have it alongside a pitcher of sangría, all the better.
Source: The Food Network
Uh, not exactly.
Let’s not even get into what an “authentic” paella is, because the last thing I want are some angry Valencianos (or adopted Valencianos) leaving comments about how ignorant I am about paella. The truth is, though, they’d be right. Even after having lived in Spain on and off since 2008, I can count the number of times I’ve eaten paella on one hand.
But people do eat paella in Spain, there’s no denying that. Obviously the idea came from somewhere. According to Saveur Magazine, the original paella “probably dates to the early 1800s and consists of saffron-scented rice cooked with rabbit, chicken, local snails called vaquetes, and three types of beans.” Rice itself has a long history in Valencia, as the Moors planted it there more than 1,300 years ago! And it thus became a ritual there, cooking rice-based dishes in the countryside over an open fire. It took a while for it to become the popular tourist dish it is today.
But I heartily believe that paella, as good as it has the potential to be, is not the dish Spaniards eat the most often, nor is it the most-consumed dish. What is? you ask. Good question. I have a theory:
Tortilla española. This egg-and-potato omelet (with or without onions) is, in my experience, the most commonly-served dish in Spain. It’s ubiquitous in bars and on tapas menus, and the truth is that it has the potential to be truly delightful, although it’s easy to screw up. It’s also—and this is key!—easy to transport, and Spaniards often make a bocadillo with it, something I at first found strange but now find genius.
There could be other contenders for the crown (jamón, cocido, gazpacho, chorizo), but I think that they are not eaten quite as often. Good jamón is expensive, cocido requires a lot of prep, gazpacho is more of a summer dish, etc. The thing about tortilla is that it’s inexpensive (potatoes, eggs, onion, olive oil, and salt are not pricey ingredients), filling, and—if made right—delicious. It meets all the requirements. (Okay, my requirements.)
But what about sangría? Do I mean to tell you that most Spaniards don’t order it when they go out to dinner with friends?
They might. I’m not saying it never happens, because I too have partaken in a jarra with friends. But honestly, I think cañas are the most popular drink to order at bars. (Or as those Sevillanos would say, cervecitas.) Wine is popular too, and gin and tonics are the thing to order at a bar de copas, but the most popular by far is the caña, a small glass of beer from the tap, generally around 200 centiliters.
Tortilla + una caña + croquetas
So the next time you visit that tapas bar in the US, think twice about what is, as they say, “typical Spanish.”
What do you think Spain’s national food is? Drink?