Simply put, it is a classic Spanish dish made of sautéed garbanzo beans and shredded meat.
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. It was a way to take advantage of leftovers whenever a Spanish stew, called cocido or puchero was cooked. Garbanzo beans were an essential part of the daily diet in Spain until about 50 years ago, and were considered a food for the masses. Today, even though the standard of living in Spain does not require such thrifty ways, cooks often prepare extra meat in their cocido, so that they may make ropa vieja the following day. As with all traditional dishes, there are many variations. Ropa vieja is still one of the classic, comfort foods, which Spaniards fondly remember eating at mom's or grandma's table.
How is ropa vieja made?
When the typical Spanish garbanzo bean stew or "cocido" 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. 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.
Where is ropa vieja eaten?
This dish enjoyed all over peninsular Spain, and the Canary Islands. It is also a very popular dish in Latin America, particularly in the Caribbean, however the preparation 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.