One of the must-have dishes in Spain is Paella beside tapas, but where is the best city to taste the authentic paella dish? The answer is Valencia city, located on Spain’s southeastern coast also the third-largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona. Don’t try to eat paella elsewhere as you may just get served by the frozen rice and reheat for you in the microwave.
Paella birthplace is in Albufera lagoon on the east coast of Spain, adjacent to the city of Valencia, about 11 km south of Valencia. Paella is a Valencian rice dish.
I first tasted paella (seafood version) in a Spanish restaurant with some Japanese friends in Sydney. The second occasion was at a friend’s house, she made home-cooked chicken paella for me. During my visit to Valencia, we tasted the paella in Palace Fesol restaurant, situated in a key commercial and financial area of Valencia.
History of Paella
It was said that Moors introduced rice over thousands of years ago to Valencia and it became the largest natural ports in the Mediterranean and also an important rice-producing area in Spain. Farmer cooked rice with whatever they have on the farm, traditionally the meat used are rabbit meat, snails, duck or chicken with some veggies (beans) in the pan. Everyone in the household eats it from the big pan with their individual wooden spoon. Nowadays seafood paella is more popular and the good thing is Valencia has a lot of seafood as it is situated on the coast.
There are different type of paella, the most popular is the seafood paella which includes squids, mussels & prawn with rice. However, they are also chicken, pork or vegetarian paella. The rice looks yellowish because saffron spice was used to turn the original rice color into golden yellowish color. The seafood paella usually omits beans and green vegetables. All type of paella uses olive oil which can be found abundant here in Spain.
Similar to Xinjiang Lamb Rice 新疆手抓饭
The Valencian Paella looks similar to the China Xinjiang Lamb rice or Xinjiang Shou Zhua fan, 新疆手抓饭. The way of cooking looks similar except 新疆手抓饭 Xinjiang Lamb rice is usually cooked with lamb & sprinkle with raisin instead of seafood.
Other Things you may want to know about Paella
Spaniard usually eats paella for lunch and not for dinner as it is too heavy in the evening. Paella appeared in the Valencian community gathering and festival and there is a day dedicated to paella – Spanish Paella Day. I would love to see the competition of making the giant paella in the small town of Castalla (about 1.5-hour drive from Valencia).
At the entrance of Palace Fesol restaurant, there are photos of famous visitors to Palace Fesol and the restaurant open since 1909, more than 100 years ago. No wonder it has a rustic vibe with a spectacular renovation.
Pronounce paella as “pa-e-ya”
This is how you should pronounce paella – “pa-e-ya”. Next time when you visit Valencia, pronounce it as “pa-e-ya” to show that you know some Spanish.
When you are in Spain, don’t just order paella anyway such as Barcelona or Madrid as you may get served with a frozen paella which will be heated in the microwave oven when you ordered. The best place to eat paella is at Valencia city, the birthplace of paella.