When I studied Spanish for the first time in Granada, I would often go to a nice little café around the corner from my apartment for a café con leche before class. It was here that I first noticed the locals eating toasted bread with bright red “jam” on it. I soon suspected that it wasn’t jam when I saw an old man first pour olive oil on top, and then season it with salt! It wasn’t until my third or fourth day that I plucked up the courage to ask the waiter what it was: tostada con tomate (toast with tomato).

I ordered it for myself that morning and have been hooked ever since. It has become a staple of my diet whenever I go to Spain, and I’m sure you will love it too!

Tostada con tomate: what is it?

Tostada con tomate is a very simple dish: toasted bread served with ripe tomato pulp rubbed into it, with olive oil and salt. It is deeply rooted in Spanish cuisine, and is thought to originate as a way to “rejuvenate” stale bread by adding a bit of moisture, texture and flavour. It is a popular breakfast, especially in Andalusia.

How is tostada con tomate served?

The way tostada con tomate is served varies from café to café. In most cases, it’s a do-it-yourself kind of breakfast: you are served toast, a small dish of tomato pulp and a bottle of olive oil. I have seen locals poke holes in their bread with a fork to better soak up the olive oil, before they put the tomato pulp over it, and then season with salt. 

Sometimes the toast is served with the tomatoes already spread, although it is still common to serve the olive oil separately, so that you can decide for yourself how much to put on.

How are the tomatoes prepared?

Traditionally, the tomato is cut in half and then “rubbed” into the bread. This allows the juice and pulp to soak into the bread. Then you drizzle some olive oil over it and add a pinch of salt. It is said that this method offers the most authentic and flavoursome experience.

It is, however, common for the tomatoes to be crushed or grated instead, and this is how it is served in many cafés. It is important to maintain as much of the texture of the tomatoes for the best enjoyment. With this variation, I often see people putting the olive oil on the bread first, but there are others who prefer to put the olive oil on last.

When making this at home, I prefer to grate a couple of larger, fleshy tomatoes into a bowl with a cheese grater and then drain off any excess water. The bread typically used in Spain is “pan de pueblo,” a crusty, rustic break with a chewy texture. I have tried it with sourdough, baguette and rye bread - which all worked for me. I toast the bread, drizzle a little (or sometimes a lot!) of olive oil onto the bread then spread a generous serving of the tomato pulp over it. A little bit of salt and black pepper finishes it off perfectly!

Regional variations of tostada con tomate

While the general recipe barely changes, there are some cultural differences in Spain when it comes to serving tostada con tomate. While it is a staple breakfast in the south, in Barcelona and Catalonia, “pan con tomate” (or in Catalan “pa amb tomàquet”) is normally served as a tapas.

This Catalonian version is probably closer to the traditional, “rubbed” version (but sometimes with garlic rubbed into the bread first), and is always served pre-prepared. Unlike the Andalusian version, which is served on hot, fresh toast, this version is almost always served cold. It is also common to see variations of tostada con tomate with toppings such as serrano jamón, manchego cheese or even anchovies.

Delicious simplicity

Tostada con tomate for me is proof that things don’t have to be complicated. There is nothing I enjoy more than sitting down at my favourite café in Málaga to enjoy a breakfast of café con leche y tostada con tomate. All for no more than €3.50!