The Fried Spanish Potato Dish You Should Try At Least Once

There are many different ways to serve up potatoes around the world — Insider names at least 25. French fries with a gravy and cheese curd topping become Canadian poutine. Mashed potatoes become one with bacon, onion, parsley, and pickled beet mashup, known as brændende kærlighed or "burning love," per Nording Food & Living. Potatoes are shaped into pancakes to become roesti, which Fine Dining Lovers says was once served up as a farmer's hearty breakfast in Switzerland. Then there is Spanish patatas bravas, the fried potato dish that is considered an indispensable part of any tapas selection.

While it might be tempting to give patatas bravas a storied past, doing that would be a stretch since, per Smithsonian Magazine, potatoes were seen as a novelty in Europe until they were brought from South America to the Old World via the Columbian Exchange. Spain stumbled across potatoes sometime in 1532; by 1596, Spanish farmers were selling potatoes to consumers in France and the Netherlands.

So if patatas bravas are relatively new in Spanish cuisine, where was it first served?

Patatas bravas are at least sixty years old

A blog post by several restaurants, including Barcelona's Grill Room Bar Thonet, credits the birth of patatas bravas as one of two Madrid restaurants: the La Casona or Casa Perico, both of which have since closed. The dish first appeared on tables in 1960 and was said to have been so famous that diners queued just to give it a try. Food Republic, which set the birthdate of patatas bravas as sometime during the 1950s, quotes "patatas bravas hunter" Edu González as saying the popular and inexpensive dish had one task: to get people thirsty enough to order more of whatever it was they were drinking.

Because there is no set recipe for patatas bravas, everyone that cooks the dish has been known to add a unique, sometimes secret twist to it, so no two dishes are exactly the same, per Spanish Food. Still, generally speaking, a dish of patatas bravas will have fried potatoes cut into unevenly-sized chunks, and they can come in different shapes that range from fat English chips to wedges or cubes, per Food Republic.

Different iterations of salsa brava

It is the sauce that makes patatas bravas the more-ish appetizer that it is, and Spanish Food says the original "salsa brava" will have tomato sauce, vinegar, and a source of heat such as cayenne pepper. It also says this special sauce can be made with olive oil, chili, paprika, and vinegar in Catalonia and Valencia, while Grill Room Bar Thonet also mentions paprika as an alternative to cayenne pepper. In "Madrid: A Culinary History," Maria Paz Moreno even writes that garlic and onion are options for certain versions of salsa brava.

The iterations don't stop there. Food Republic says when served in Barcelona, a dish of patatas bravas also comes topped with a blob of garlic mayonnaise or aioli, a twist added to the dish by a restaurant named Bar Tomás, which patatas bravas connoisseur Edu González says is the best in town.

But as in the case of recipes with plenty of iterations, salsa brava attracts its own controversy too, with some cooks saying tomatoes are essential to the dish, while others pointing out that its fiery red color must come from the peppers it uses, which can be a combination of hot and sweet paprikas, per "Madrid: A Culinary History."