Valencia: home of oranges, a park where once a river ran, and most importantly to this blog, paella.
Now, for who just read that word as ‘pay-ella’ STOP. Say it again like that, and you may as well line up at your nearest tattoo parlour for your very own Southern Cross on your shoulder-blade. Would it help if I tell you that in Spanish language, double L, as in the double L in paella, is pronounced as a Y? OK, now try it again: pie-ay-uh.
I’m not quite sure how Paella came to be born in Valencia, but I’m really glad it did. I’m also really glad that I managed (with some help from my travelling companion) to suss out a somewhat less touristic restaurant in which to sample this Valencian speciality.
When thinking of paella (did you pronounce it correctly this time?) most people see bright yellow rice with opened mussels, prawns and other sea-dwelling creatures swimming around enjoying their saffron-bathed surroundings. I hate to break it to you, but that is not traditional Valencian paella. While it’s nice, it’s not the real McCoy.
So what is? When we took our seats at a beach-side restaurant in Valencia, it was already 4:30pm on a lovely, balmy afternoon. We took a look at the menu, spied what we came for and requested in our best Spanish: quesiera Paella a Valencia. “Are you sure you don’t want the seafood one?” came back at us in accented English “it is very nice”. No, we wanted what we came for: paella with rabbit and chicken, like any Valencian would want. “Oh, OK, if you sure...but might be 40 minutes”. No problem for us – at least we knew we were getting freshly cooked paella, and not a batch of packet-mix that had been sitting there for hours.
Two jugs of sangria later and out came our very own pan of paella – it was huge, or at least it seemed huge. We of course managed to finish the entire thing. On top of our saffron-infused rice and hunks of rabbit and chicken, were cooked snow peas – something we would notice more of on top of this Valencian speciality.
For those who followed Master chef season one (an eternity ago now) you may have remembered Gary and George crapping on about the importance of the ‘crust’ in paella – now, I’m still not quite sure what they were going on about, but I do know that the tastiest rice in the paella dish is what I would suppose is the equivalent of a crust – slightly more cooked than the rest of the rice, each grain takes on additional flavour and texture. Much like the skin on a good roast chicken, but it’s not a crust as such – just clumps of rice that have come stuck in places to the paella pan.
I think I almost ate that entire meal with my eyes closed, savouring each mouthful of that golden grain.
For those who claim that paella is a glorified version of risotto, I have this to say to you: seriously?!? Are you kidding? Step away from the Ainsley whatshisface packet paella and go to a decent Spanish restaurant and try saying it again.
Next up: horchata and fartons in Valencia
Tapas gratis in Granada; and
Pasteis de nata in Lisbon, Portugal
More info on paella: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paella