Very similar to Indian Biryani and Ghanaian Jollof, Paella is a famous fried rice dish of Spain, that originated in the Valencia region of the country. Most people now consider it as Spain’s national dish.
Paella actually has ancient roots that originated in its modern form in the mid-19th century in a coastal lagoon of Valencia, on the east coast of Spain. Valencians regard paella as one of their identifying symbols. There can be many different forms of paella nowadays, but Valencian paella is believed to be the original recipe. It consists of white rice, green beans, meat (usually chicken or rabbit), white beans, snails, and seasoning with saffron and dollops of olive oil.
The word “Paella” derives from the Old French word “paella”, which means “pan”. Valencians use the word paella for all pans, including the specialized shallow pan used for cooking paellas. Paelleras are traditionally round, shallow and made of polished steel with two handles.
On special occasions, 18th century Valencians used to cook rice in the open air of their orchards. Water rats were said to be one of the main ingredients of early paellas, along with eel and butter beans. Living standards rose with the sociological changes of the late 19th century in Spain, giving rise to gatherings and outings in the countryside. This led to a change in paella’s ingredients as well, now utilising rabbit, chicken, duck and sometimes snails. Poor people in Spain, however, sometimes used nothing more than snails for meat, as they couldn’t afford anything else.
On the Mediterranean coast, Valencians used seafood instead of meat and beans to make paella. In this recipe, the seafood is served in the shell. Later, however, Spaniards living outside of Valencia combined seafood with meat from land animals and mixed paella was born. This paella is sometimes called “preparación barroca” (baroque preparation) due to the variety of ingredients and its final presentation.
During the 20th century, paella’s popularity spread past Spain’s borders, and though the most globally popular recipe is seafood paella, mixed paella remains very popular. Some restaurants in Spain (and around the world) serve this mixed version and refer to it as “Valencian paella”, which the people of Valenica do not like to hear – they generally view all other versions of paella as inferior, and even grotesque.