Paella is one of those festive-looking dishes that is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the palate. What exactly is Paella you may ask?
In a nutshell, it is a rice dish from Spain cooked in a round flat pan with any number of local ingredients. Hailing from Valencia, Spain, it was first prepared by the Valencians with whatever ingredients they had on hand – rabbit, snails and vegetables. It has come a long way since then – the popularity of paella has spread throughout Spain, using just about any kind of ingredient that goes well with rice! There are three widely known types of paella: Valencian, seafood and mixed.
Valencian paella consists of white rice, vegetables, meat (rabbit, chicken, duck), snails, beans and seasoning. Seafood paella replaces meat and snails with seafood but without the beans and vegetables. Mixed paella is a combination of meat, seafood, vegetables, and sometimes beans.
Besides the different varieties, it is also served in a number of ways, depending on the quality and its availability. You can enjoy it cooked a la minute, tapas, frozen and from the menu of the day. Here the paella is cooked earlier and restaurants serve portions from it during the day. In this case, there will often be a sign saying ‘Hay Paella’ (‘There is Paella’). If you can enjoy it while fresh, it might be good.
Those in the know will be well aware of the two unspoken golden rules for ordering paella in Spain.
Firstly, avoid chain restaurants when trying to get good paella. Their version is usually frozen and not created fresh.
Secondly, plan to eat with two or more people because this dish is large and is best served to large groups. Having more people in your party also ensures that the dish is cooked fresh rather than earlier in the day.
It may sound like a cliché but paella is a must-try dish while in Spain simply because it showcases authentic Spanish flavors and promises a real treat for the senses. For an authentic dining experience, do consider visiting Valencia, home of the original paella. Here are some good places to get your Paella fix.
- Casa Roberto
One of the most popular restaurants in Valencia, it’s known for serving traditional paellas, albeit with more ingredients and a good portion of vegetables. In addition to paella, a range of rice dishes are also available. Get your classic Paella fix here.
Carrer del Mestre Gozalbo, 19, Valencia. +34 963 95 13 61
- La Pepica
One of Ernest Hemingway’s favourite restaurants, La Pepica offers a gorgeous view of the Meditarrean Sea along with delicious Paella. Steeped in history – having been around for over 100 years, La Pepica is a must-try and diners are assured of the consistent yet excellent quality of its dishes. Be sure to try this out next time you head to Valencia.
Paseo de Neptuno 6, Playa de la Malvarosa, Valencia. +34 963 71 03 66
- La Riuà
Located near the center of town, this family-run eatery has won numerous awards over the year. These include the Prize for the Best Service of Valencian Gastronomy, the National Prize for Gastronomy ‘Plato de Oro’ as well as a Golden Medal from the European Chamber of Commerce and Development (Brussels). Besides traditional Paella, there are other rice dishes available – one must try dish is the arroz negro, with seafood.
Carrer del Mar, 27, Valencia. +34 963 91 45 71