IberiaNature A guide to the natural history and food of Spain

Eggs in Spain

Expert guided food tours in Barcelona by Nick Lloyd of Iberianature.

Eggs / Huevos / Ous

Expert guided food tours in Barcelona by Nick Lloyd of Iberianature.

Unpeeled huevos duros [hard boiled eggs] are often available as bar snacks, always ceremoniously served on a little dish with a saltshaker. The more up-market establishments offer several varieties, notably little quails' eggs. Ostrich eggs are sometimes put on display as curiosities, but I don't remember ever trying one - not hard-boiled, at any rate! I am told that one ostrich egg can make a huge omelette for 20 people.

Peeled huevos duros are popular, especially chopped up with other ingredients in sandwich fillings. They also feature in several dishes, especially certain salads, but egg salad per se is not a Spanish phenomenon. (I am occasionally distressed to find all the egg slices in my salad identical in size, which can only mean that it is reprocessed egg from a tube. When this happens, I make a firm resolution never to darken the door of that eatery again. Unfortunately, airlines are the worst culprits, Aer Lingus and British Airways included. I was pleased to note that neither Iberia nor Alitalia perpetrate this crime against their passengers).

I have never seen an eggcup in Spain . When I mentioned the childhood pleasure of dipping bread "soldiers" in runny yellow yolk to my students, they looked doubtful, and more so at my suggested translation of huevos hervidos or cocidos . They suggested huevos pasado por agua , but I have yet to find out if this refers to soft-boiled eggs or poached eggs. Once, when I made soft-boiled eggs for breakfast for a Catalan girlfriend, she immediately broke them into a cup and stirred them with salt and pepper, then drank them at one gulp. I was quite taken aback, but followed suit, and I have to agree that it's a very nice way to consume them.

Huevos al horno or al plato usually consist of eggs baked with some form of embutido in a clay or metal dish; huevos a la riojana are cooked with chorizo , huevos a la mallorquina are cooked with sobresada , etc. These are excellent for dipping bread!

Huevos fritos [fried eggs] are very popular. Cheaper restaurants often serve them for lunch or dinner with beicon, jamón, chorizo or morcilla , with or without chips. They often turn up in quite surprising places and contexts. Huevos estrellados is the name of a currently fashionable first course in more up-market restaurants, and comprises- fried egg splattered over chips!

Huevos revueltos [scrambled eggs] are never served by themselves but are the main feature of revoltillos . A revoltillo de gambas has prawns and garlic, a revoltillo de setas has a variety of mushrooms, a revoltillo de ajos tiernos has garlic shoots and scallions, a revoltillo de tomate is bright red, etc.

Truites / tortillas / [omelettes] are very popular, and have no connection with Mexican tortillas , which are made from maize . Common filled omelettes include tortilla de calabazín, tortilla de berenjena, tortilla de espinacas, tortilla de esparagos, tortilla de ajos tiernos, tortilla de cebolla ,tortilla de jamón, tortilla de chorizo, tortilla de sobresada, tortilla de queso, tortilla de atún , etc. Combinations such as tortilla de jamón y queso are not uncommon. My Argentinian flatmate Esteban is capable of making tortillas out of whatever leftovers happen to be around, including spaghetti or rice dishes, and more often than not they work well. However, truite de mongetes blancs , a particularly Catalan omelette made with haricot beans, is basically repulsive. A tortilla francesa is a lightly seasoned omelette without any filling, which is very nice with pa amb tomaquet . I have not yet seen a soufle omelette in this country.

The queen of omelettes has to be tortilla española , a.k.a. truite de patates / tortilla de patatas [potato omelette]. This can be made con or sin cebolla [with or without onion], but in either case is equally delicious when made properly. For such a simple dish, it is amazing how much it varies from cook to cook. A big one is made every day in most good bar / restaurants. The best time to eat it, with or without pa amb tomaquet , is when it is still warm from the pan, usually in the morning. It can be eaten cold or reheated, but is noticeably inferior after a few hours of exposure. British and American ideas of Spanish Omelette are more akin to tortilla campesina or peasant's omelette, where virtually any combination of vegetables can be thrown in.

Quiche is of course a French invention, but is quite popular in this country despite its unfortunate origin. Quiche Lorraine is the version most frequently encountered, but mushroom or prawn quiches and other varieties are temptingly displayed in shops, bars and restaurants patronised by the moneyed classes.

Mayonnaise is another egg-based French invention popular in this country. Despite EU regulations, it is not at all unusual for restaurants to prepare their own mayonnaise. Jars of mayonnaise are looked down upon, and English salad cream is regarded as barbaric. I have often heard the claim that mayonnaise was invented in honour of the French capture of Mahon in Menorca from the British in the 18 th century, but I am not at all clear on when this was supposed to have happened.

There are several Catalan traditions involving Ous . The most charming is l'ou com baille , when a pierced egg shell is put on top of the central jet of water in a patio fountain to dance crazily for hours, occasionally falling but immediately whizzing back up. This delightful custom is observed on Corpus Christi Thursday in the city and environs of Barcelona , and comes originally, I believe, from Mallorca . At Easter, as in many parts of Europe , painted hard-boiled eggs are hidden around the house for children to find. American ideas about the Easter Bunny have yet to catch on, but cake and confectionary shops shops do sell a lot of chocolate eggs, hens and the like. Different omelettes are associated with different days of the calendar, as in the example given above of the truite de botifarra d'ou eaten on dijous gras . The word truite also means trout, and once, in a village in the high Pyrenees , a region known for its excellent fishing, I saw a poster advertising an omelette-making competition, the organisers of which obviously felt obliged to specify truites (d'ous) ! Maybe it's just as well that trout omelette doesn't sound like such a great idea.

Truita de botifarra d'ou / egg botifarra omelette is traditionally served on dijous gras , the Thursday immediately before Ash Wednesday. This compares oddly with traditions elsewhere such as Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras, the highlight of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans , and even more so since Carnival is celebrated enthusiastically in Catalunya on the usual dates just before Lent. The Catalan version is called Carnestoltes , and is presided over by the particularly grotesque figure of the Rei Canestoltes , who oozes jaded sensuality and gross decadence from every bloated pore of his bulging vegetable form.

Huevos is also the slang term for testicles. I once entered an old-fashioned egg and poultry shop and informed the elderly couple running it that I lacked a couple of huevos , and although they politely tried to keep straight faces, they obviously found this hysterically funny.

A tortillera is not just a person who makes omelettes but an aggressive lesbian or "dyke".


Expert guided food tours in Barcelona by Nick Lloyd of Iberianature.


Francis Barrett's Deconstruction of Catalan and Spanish Food

See aslo a brief guide to Catalan food by Simon Rice



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