Paella is one of the most popular dishes in the world. Though it originated in Spain, nowadays it’s not that hard to find restaurants offering their own version in other parts of the world. It really is a delicious and versatile dish that can be prepared almost everywhere while still achieving an authentic flavor.
So how exactly did this amazing dish came to be? The history is divisive. Historians usually point to two distinct origin stories. But what everyone agrees on, is that the original Paella recipe is from Valencia, Spain. Every other variation came afterwards.
Valencia is a very rich region located in the eastmost part of Spain, right on the Mediterranean coast. The city’s history combines a lot of influence from both its Roman and Arabic roots. In fact, it’s the combination of both those cultures that created the Paella we all know and love.
One of the most commonly known Paella origin story is that it was a dish created thanks to the Moorish kings. The king’s servants would often take large pots of left-over to take home after big royal banquets. Though, not everyone takes this a truth since the first mentions of Paella were around the mid-nineteenth century when there were no Moorish kings to speak of. Though the Moors still get a lot of credit for the dish since they were who introduced the Spanish to bomba rice, a small round grain that it’s still popular today.
A more likely story has field workers from Valencia front and center. It poses that these workers would get together during lunch and put their patellas (the name for the typical flat pan used for the dish) over the fire with rice and whatever they could find around, which was typically snails vegetables, rabbits, and on special occasions chicken and saffron for the rich yellow-golden color that has become so typical of Paella.
The Valencian environment has, unsurprisingly, a lot of influence on the way Paella is made. See, it’s hard to find good burning timber around the Mediterranean, most of the available wood has really high acid content. So hard that most typical Mediterranean recipes call for a slow simmer or a frying technique which was easier to do with the slow-burning firewood they could get their hands on. In time, paella pans became larger and larger to accommodate big families and Valencian seafood was added in addition to other meats.
Well, Valencian Paella is still pretty much what it used to be. Traditional recipes still call for the same ingredients and the same cooking process with little to no changes. But as Paella became more and more popular throughout Spain, a lot of variations have appeared. There are Paellas with just seafood, Paellas with chorizos (smoked meat) and chicken, and even duck Paellas.
What has stayed the same it’s the large pan and the communal aspect of the meal. In Spain is normal for Paellas to be served in a huge pan, rather than individual plates. In fact, people are expected to eat straight from the pan starting around the corners and making their way to the center, just like the Valencian workers did when they first invented it.