‘Toasting over Sangria in Spain’ is definitely a thing to do on every traveler’s bucket-list, but you really can’t afford to miss the traditional Valencian Paella, as well. Lucky me, my wish was granted in Valencia and Ibiza in Spain. Valencia is the home-land of this simple but sumptuous rice dish. My first rendezvous with Paella had taken place in Johannesburg in South Africa in a Sunday Farmer’s Market. I remember being there early morning and noticing a lady cooking large quantity of rice with sea food, in a large shallow pan. She had plans to sell it later for lunch. Curiously, I had asked her the name of the dish and she had said, its Paella, (Valencian: [paˈeʎa]). I had no clue where it came from until I looked for it on the internet. The pictures looked delicious to the rice-lover in me. While Paella is the dish name, it actually refers to the huge and mighty, circular pan that it is cooked in. Sounds interesting? Read on to know whats special about Valencian Paella.
Paella – Is it Biryani of Spain?
To Indians, Biryani reminds of Hyderabad or Lucknow. In the same way, internationally, Paella stands for Spain. It is so popular that this rice dish with meat, vegetables or seafood has come to be the national dish of the country. In fact, my first instinct was that “Is it another version of our Biryani?” But before you even begin to have a wrong notion, let me clarify that its not. From the type of rice used to the method of cooking, everything about the two dishes is different. However, their stories of origination are close and relatively humble. I really like the fact that both have evolved in common man’s kitchen.
It is believed that Biryani was brought from Persia and introduced by Mughals to India because they wanted their soldiers to have a balanced diet of rice, meat and veggies. While the Nawabs of Lucknow preferred pulavs, the soldiers were given Biryanis on the celebratory days. The already cooked meat and vegetables were mixed with rice and exposed to slow cooking. Similarly, the servants of Moorish kings created this rice dish by mixing the left-overs of sea food and rice. It was farmers food too. Rice was mixed with everything that was available in their fields. Rabbit, duck, chicken were added to the rice on special occasions. Even today, families in Spain congregate together to eat paella. It is supposed to be a holiday affair.
The Paella that I ate in Valencia was different to the one I ate in Ibiza.
History says that the most traditional Paella was cooked in Valencia. And it did not have sea food. The ingredients were mostly affordable meat and veggies which farmers and servants could afford. Today, nearly 200 versions exist. With Valencia having a coast, sea food Paella gained popularity. But what remains unchanged about Paella is the fact that is a rice dish. A short grain variety with moderate amount of starch and the right amount of stock makes a good Paella.
Valencian Paella is mostly about meat so it is prepared with meat stock. Green beans, tomato, onions, saffron, rice and chicken/rabbit are some of the important ingredients. Reddish hue to the dish is given by saffron. The metal pan or “paellera”. in which Paella is made is very important and thus it must be made from iron (cast iron preferred) or polished steel. Uniform cooking is very important. Olive oil is a must.
Paella is an identity symbol for Valencia. Don’t forget to buy Paella magnets as travel souvenirs. Whoever may give you the paella recipe, do get it confirmed by a Valencian chef. Enormous paellas are cooked in Valencian community celebrations and festivities.
Some Facts Around Paella
“Paella” is pronounced as “pa-e-ya”. March 27 is celebrated as Spanish Paella Day.
One of the stories tells us that Paella was made by a boy for his girlfriend and the word originates from ‘para ella’ (meaning ‘for her’ in Spanish). Therefore, more than women, men know how to cook Paella in Spain.
Valencian Paella is supposed to be eaten straight from the pan in which it is cooked. Traditionally, everyone would use a wooden spoon and dig in the pan. Today, people serve themselves in small plates.
Even if the rice sticks to the pan in which it is cooked, it is not to be stirred. Only wooden spatulas are to be used to avoid metallic taste.
It is mostly preferred tepid than just out of fire.
“Paella,” also finds its origins in the Arabic word “baquia,” which means “leftovers.”
Developing a taste for Paella
I have a weakness for rice and anything interesting mixed with rice and spices sounds like a delicacy to my taste buds. Don’t expect too many spices like Biryani or Mandi and be ready to explore a new rice dish. Enjoy it with Sangria and you will love it. Get the rice to make some Paella at your home too.
10 thoughts on “Valencian Paella & Sangria”
I was so privileged last year to visit Valenica whilst running a major running event and had to have paella! I didnt even know until I arrived in Valencia that the city was the place paella was created. I think I must of had three different paella meals whilst I was in the city. Just love the stuff. Sangria however, nah, Spain can keep that. I dont like the taste of it. Give me beer any day of the week 😀
I love a good paella! This one looks really tasty. When I visited Madrid a few years ago we had a great paella in the restaurant next to the futbol stadium before a Real Madrid game. We were surprised how inexpensive and delicious it was because restaurants at stadiums in the US are overpriced and the food is just okay.
Ahh reading this article reminds me of one of my biggest travel regrets…not trying paella while in Spain. I actually had no idea they were cooked so differently depending on the region. We were in Barcelona so I am sure the recipe and preparation would be different from that in Valencia. Either way, kind of wishing I had tried this Spanish staple!
I too loved Paella when I visited in Spain and found a very similar resemblance with Biryani of India. I never knew that March 27th is celebrated as Paella day in Spain. Also buying those cute souvenirs dedicated to Spain’s famous Paella must be great here. Being vegetarian, I always customized vegetarian version in Paella and they happily did it for me. Thanks for sharing wonderful information about Paella and how it is prepared.
Well, to be honest, it does seem like Biryani but then I guess the flavors and the type of rice is what makes it distinct. It was interesting to read the little stories behind it – like the origin of the word and the possibility of a guy having made for his gf. Now that adds a different spin to the whole dish 😉 Am all for doubling this up with Sangria (which incidentally I love)
Ohhhhh Sangria! I did not realize Paella is traditionally from Valencia and was not made with seafood. Funny how things change. I love that is was a meal made of leftovers, very resourceful. I wish I had taken a Paella cooking class in Spain and I wish I would have brought home a few mixes, huge regret
As a vegetarian/vegan I am VERY excited to find out that the original paella did not have seafood in it…as i keep telling my friends you can make it with just veggies and they tell me that’s “not the way”….so now i have some backup. Thanks for the yummy blog!
Mmmmm….that looks and sounds so satisfying. I enjoyed the history, too! I am a big fan of both biryani AND paella…basically anything that is dense and comforting with tasty mix-ins is sure to be a hit with me. I actually like the idea of community dining from the serving dish with wooden spoons; it furthers a sense of sharing and family in my mind. I didn’t realize there were so many varieties of paella, though! It would be fun to try as many as possible. I don’t think I’d ever tire of it.