What Is Ropa Vieja?

A Guide to Understanding Ropa Vieja

Close up of ropa vieja

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Ropa vieja in Spanish refers to a classic Spanish dish made of sautéed garbanzo beans and shredded meat. If you are new to Spanish cuisine or just want to understand more about certain dishes, you're in the right place.

The words ropa vieja mean "old clothes" in Spanish. What does that have to do with a Spanish recipe? It is probably because the dish ropa vieja is actually derived from another dish, a Spanish bean stew. Making a stew was a way to take advantage of leftovers whenever a Spanish stew, called cocoa or pusher, was cooked. The exact origins of the dish are not really known, but recipes have been passed down for decades.

Garbanzo beans were an essential part of the daily diet in Spain until about 50 years ago and were considered food for the masses due to their inexpensive nature. They are a very healthy bean and a staple in many diets and have grown in popularity in the U.S. in recent years.

Today, even though the standard of living in Spain does not require such thrifty ways, cooks often prepare extra meat in their condo so that they may make ropa vieja the following day. As with all traditional dishes, there are many variations and some of these are due to different regions. Ropa vieja is still one of the classic, comfort foods, which Spaniards fondly remember eating at mom's or grandma's table as children.


When the typical Spanish garbanzo bean stew or "coco" is prepared, there are usually leftover garbanzos with broth. The garbanzos are drained, then sautéed in olive oil and a bit of paprika, and served with pieces of beef stew meat, pork, and/or chicken, which have been cooked long enough to become soft and easily shredded. Although it is traditionally made in a saute, modern recipes also offer the option of making it in a crockpot or slow cooker. This takes some of the hassle and time out of preparing the dish.

Depending on the region and the household, fried eggs, green peppers, and chunks of fried potatoes might be added to the dish just before serving.

This dish is enjoyed all over peninsular Spain, and the Canary Islands. It is also a very popular dish in Latin America, particularly in the Caribbean. The preparation, however, is different there: beef is stewed with onions, tomato sauce, and vegetables, then shredded and served alongside beans, rice, and plantains.

As in Spain, in Latin America, there are many variations of the dish. It is especially popular in Cuba, where even more variations exist. Despite the differences, though, most people refer to this as a classic comfort food.