Welcome to Food in Focus. Each week we will post about different food from around the world, explaining what it is, where it comes from, where you can eat it and how to make it yourselves! Today we are exploring a Valencian classic – Paella!
What is Paella?
Paella is a rice based Spanish one pot dish, typically cooked in a large pan (which is where the name comes from, ‘la paella’). It is a robust dish that you can play around with to make your own recipe, but principally it comprises rice, vegetables, meat and/or seafood.
Modern day paella is very wide spread, and within the UK it will most often contain shellfish, chicken and chorizo which proud Spanish chefs would likely scorn. In Valencia and wider Spain there is much more variety, with the most popular being Paella Valenciana (rabbit, chicken and snails), Paella Mixta (chicken and seafood), Paella Marisco (contains 5 different seafood items) and Paella Negra (coloured with black with squid ink!).
The rich golden colour comes from the use of spices such as saffron and turmeric and is most commonly used as a social, celebratory dish at large family gatherings.
Where does it come from?
Paella comes from the the Spanish city of Valencia, one of the largest ports in the Mediterranean and the 3rd largest city in Spain. The region produces large quantities of rice, (or ‘arroz’ in Spanish) which dates back to when the region was part of the Moorish Empire in 800 AD. The Moors brought rice to Valencia from the far reaches of their empire and here it has stayed ever since, being produced in the marshlands of the Albufuera region.
The dish itself has humble origins as a dish for farmers out working the land. They would put rice in a pan and add to it anything else that they had to hand, such as beans, tomato’s, onions and even snails! Meat such as rabbit or duck would have been added for special occasions to add some extra protein to the meal.
As time progressed, so did the dish and as Valencia is on the coast, it eventually began to incorporate seafood and became the dish we know and love today. Now across Spain and many other parts of the world you can find a wide variety of paella dishes so there really is something for everyone!
Where can I try it?
Undoubtedly the best place to try an unbeatable paella is the home of paella itself – Valencia. The city is proud of its culinary heritage and you will find varieties of the dish across the city. If you head down to the beach, ‘La Malvarrosa’, you will find a host of dedicated paella restaurants, the most famous being La Papica, which has been cooking paella on the Valencian beach front for 120 years. You simply cannot visit Valencia without giving it a go!
How do I make it?
To learn how to cook a paella, check out our recipe for Classic Paella!