7 Cringe-Worthy Spanish Food Fails

bad Spanish food
Not chorizo and definitely not paella.

Spanish food, when prepared as it is intended with fresh ingredients and centuries-old recipes, is a world of flavor and deliciousness. But when Spanish food is done wrong, it is often done really, miserably wrong.

In Spain many dishes are all about simplicity. A few great ingredients are skillfully combined to concoct a rich variety of dishes that vary by region and season.

But a bit too often all that goodness gets lost in translation.

Whether it is a seriously misguided recipe online, a positively sacrilegious packaged item at a foreign supermarket or a terribly adulterated traditional dish at a tourist trap restaurant, these Spanish food fails are both hilarious and infuriating. They may be tasty, but they are not Spanish!

For more Spanish food crimes, check out Madrid Food Tour’s list of offenses!

1. Tortilla with Frozen French Fries

Few things make my blood boil more than restaurants in Spain that claim authenticity and then cut corners to serve awful versions of traditional Spanish dishes to unknowing tourists.

The tortilla de patatas is the most classic, the most marvelous and the most prevalent dish in all of Spain. So when I ordered one for my first meal in the Canary Island of Tenerife, I had seriously high hopes about the island-inspired version. This tortilla claimed to have Manchego cheese and avocado along with the traditional onions and potatoes.

Spanish Food Fails: Tortilla de Patatas
Can you spot the french fries?

What came out was a barbarian of a Spanish omelet. Whole freezer-burnt french fries were used instead of freshly diced potatoes. Tiny splotches of flavorless avocado gave the tortilla an eerie greenish color and the Manchego cheese was altogether absent. This tortilla was about as far from the real thing as I’ve ever tasted!

2. Paella with chorizo

Paella has somehow become the international poster child of Spanish food. Yet if you ask a Spaniard to define paella, they’ll have a hard time doing it! While the word paella has come to mean various types of Spanish rice dishes, the word itself only refers to the large, shallow pan that these rices are slowly cooked in.

chorizo paella is not at authentic Spanish dish!
NOT a paella!

Many regions in Spain have their own styles of rice dishes that are cooked in paella pans. And while the recipes can include a huge variety of meats, vegetables and seafood, there is one thing that no paella should ever have: chorizo.

3.  Paella with Hot Dogs

Paella with chorizo was bad enough, but paella with New York style Nathan’s hot dogs?! Chef Jesús Nuñez put a decidedly New Yorker spin on the traditional Spanish paella at his restaurant Socarrat this year in Manhattan.

hotdog paella, another Spanish food crime!
Say it isn’t so!

The inventive Spanish chef tossed not only hot dogs, but Katz Delicatessen salami and pulled pork all into the paella pan together for a meaty American style rice dish. Can we call it paella? I think I’d rather not…

4. Baked Tortilla de Patatas

I’ve been practicing for years (years!) to make a good Spanish omelet, one where the center is juicy and the exterior isn’t burned to a crisp, in which the onions are nicely caramelized and the potatoes perfectly fried. Try as I might, I can never quite get it right.

Tortilla is not a frittata!
Looks good, but let’s not call it a tortilla, ok?

Which is why it irks me to see recipes like this one that skip the tricky yet essential flip, throw texture to the birds and toss the whole darn thing in the oven. This is not a Spanish omelet it is a frittata!

5. Patatas “Bravas” with Ketchup

Bravas sauce can either be a richly flavorful spicy sauce that is drizzled over crisp olive oil fried potatoes or it can be ketchup. This Spanish food fail is one you’ll find a bit too often right here in Spain. Many low cost restaurants have resorted to squirting a bit of plain-old ketchup on some fried potatoes and parading it around as bravas.

The true bravas sauce is a staple of Madrid’s tapas scene. It should be a deep orangey red color, a bit spicy and packed with flavor. It should not come squirted out of a Heinz bottle.

Patatas bravas should not come with ketchup!
Ketchup is NOT bravas sauce!

The traditional bravas recipe, in fact, doesn’t even call for tomatoes. The classic red color of the sauce comes from bright red Spanish paprika as does its characteristic spice.

6. Paella Sandwich

Paella sandwich
No, no NOOOO!

At the U.K. grocery store chain Tesco, the joy that is Spanish paella has been reduced to the status of lunch meat ham. A concoction of rice, shrimp, chicken and chorizo parading as Spanish paella has been stuffed between two slices of white bread, sealed into a protective plastic container and slapped on the supermarket shelves as the latest Spanish lunch option.

Every part of this sandwich baffles me. Nothing about a rice sandwich sounds appetizing and it definitely does not sound like Spanish food!

7. Churro Ice Cream Sandwich

Okay, I’ll admit it. The following photo looks delicious. Horchata ice cream stuffed between layers of cinnamon and sugar sprinkled fried dough? Yes, please! Only one problem– where are the churros?

Churros ice cream sandwich
Yummy, but not churros!

Authentic churros are a mix of flour, water and salt that are deep fried in olive oil. Purists eat them plain, while other dunk in hot chocolate or sprinkle with sugar (no cinnamon!). Points for the yummy factor, but let’s not call this a churro please!

What are some of the worst Spanish food fails you’ve seen?

Recipes for the Real Deal

Photo credits: Boris Mannsavagecatsk.segarsAlphaGarrett ZieglerKrista on flickr CC


  1. I dislike Patatas Bravas made with what look like potato crisps. Surely the potatoes should chunky? Most annoying when we returned to our favourite bar in Alicante to find they’d gone over to thin, fried slices of potato.

  2. A perfectly acceptable restaurant technique is to run a tortilla under a salamander or broiler for a few seconds before flipping to congeal the top. The trick to a perfectly shaped tortilla is to flip it several times during the cooking process.

  3. Dear Lauren, I so agree with you in every way, except that, if I have it, I love to brown a little chorizo while I am sautéing the onions, garlic and tomatoes for my paella. It just a little adds an extra smoky flavor, and since I use smoked paprika from La Vera, it makes it even more intense. I don’t want to over power it!

    1. Hi Emily! I must admit I enjoy rice and sausage (including chorizo) a lot! But I think Amy’s point was we shouldn’t call it paella! Then again, that’s just semantics! But totally agree that chorizo is delicious!

  4. That paella sandwich…yikes! How does one even eat rice between bread like that?

    The worst tortilla I ever had was at a ~tapas~ bar here in Dallas that took “potato omelet” a little too literally–it was as if they had poured in beaten eggs onto the frying pan, then sprinkled some fried potatoes on top of the egg mixture, instead of mixing everything up together first and then frying it. Don’t even get me started on how much I paid for that!

  5. To be fair, the Spanish ruin international food all the time. Hamburgers made out of pork, burritos with shredded carrot and cucumber, things like that. Oh yeah, I almost forgot canned corn on a pizza! Ugh 🙂

  6. This is a timely article. I got an ad yesterday from a Mexican/Chicken fast food chain that now had Paella. It had chicken, shrimp, and peas. I was wondering what the peas were doing in there without even thinking about the other stuff. They don’t even make very good Mexican food I do not know what they are thinking trying Paella.

    I have a friend who tried making Paella once. He told me it came out kind of greasy. I asked him if he used Mexican or Spanish chorizo. He said Mexican. I told him that was the problem.

    What about a tortilla sandwich? Is that something that is done because I had one in Valencia that was really good.

  7. Hi! I just discovered your blog via a Chowhound post linking the WSJ article on expat blogs. I look forward to reading your blog!
    I was going to make tortilla española the other day and I came across a recipe for tortilla made from potato chips! I was shocked. Then I did a search for tortilla with potato chips and there were a lot of hits! Do people actually do this?

    1. Hi Dana! Glad to have you around 🙂 I have heard of this, but have never met a Spaniard who’s done it. I can’t imagine it would taste the same. That said, I’m all for experimenting– maybe I will try it sometime!

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