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  • Writer's pictureSpain Walking Tours

Who invented Paella?

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

Home made Paella on a table ready to eat
Home Made Paella

Ask anyone around the world "what is Spains national dish"? Not many people will get it wrong, even if they've never tried it. But have you ever wondered about its roots, its inventors, and its captivating journey into the hearts and palates of people worldwide?

Let me begin by saying that Paella is as delightful as it looks, and if you find yourself in Spain, it's a culinary experience you must savour at least once. While tourist hotspots are brimming with Paella-serving restaurants, they often offer a fast-food version that, while tasty, may not capture the traditional preparation techniques that yield the dish's beautiful, juicy texture and deep flavors. To truly relish an authentic Paella, you must turn to the locals; they know the secret. They wouldn't dream of settling for a "tourist Paella" unless they need a quick take-away. For a memorable night out, they know the right restaurants to explore.

Interestingly, the word "Paella" does not refer to the dish itself but to the pan it is cooked in. La Paella - a remnant of early Roman settlers, particularly those who made their home in Valentia, now known as Valencia. The Romans left their mark on Valencia for 500 years, succeeded by the Visigoths, who were later displaced by the Moors - an influential North African Muslim culture that profoundly shaped Spain's history.

The Moors brought with them the knowledge of rice cultivation. Even today, Valencia remains one of Spain's most prominent rice-producing regions. The Moors transformed a lake into a rice field just south of Valencia, known as Albufera, meaning "the little sea." It continues to flourish, yielding the rice still used in traditional Paella recipes.

The labourers tending those fields would gather during lunchtime to cook up a meal with whatever ingredients they could find. Rice was a staple, along with snails, rabbit, chicken, and occasionally, if luck favored them, seafood. They combined these with basic ingredients like onions, beans, herbs, peas, and saffron. This delightful medley became known as "The Valencian" and remains a beloved version of Paella. The snails are optional and can be substituted with Chorizo for a different twist.

To accommodate the large group, the Roman Paellas (pans) were used, as they could feed everyone, and the communal dining experience involved eating directly from the pan - a tradition that endures today. The social nature of Paella contributes to its popularity as a dinner-party dish, with everyone gathering around the table, eagerly partaking in the feast.

Thus, Paella originated as a humble workman's lunch. It comes as no surprise that its remarkable flavours have withstood the test of time, making it Spain's national dish. Today, Paella boasts numerous variations, with the Valencian, Mixed, and Seafood versions being the most renowned. However, locals often exhibit their creativity by adding personal touches and ingredients to make it their own.

If you're planning a trip to Spain, indulging in a Paella feast is an absolute must. Seek out an authentic rendition, and you'll understand what all the fuss is about.

Enhance your journey in Valencia by embarking on a self-guided audio walking tour, offering deeper insights into the Moors' influence on Spanish culture and their contribution to the region.


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