Paella is more than just a Spanish tradition, a time-honored dish representing Spain around the world…it’s delicious. A bed of yellow rice slowly cooked in a broth infused with spices, a mix of vegetables and, typically, an assortment of seafood from shrimp and clams to mussels and calamari (paella de marisco). Valencian paella, the original paella, had more land-based meats such as chicken or duck along with some beans. Either way, the result is a rich and savory dish enjoyed by all.
If you ever are in Spain and looking out for a place to try out some of this delicious Spanish, avoid places with signs with pictures! You can find these exact same signs set up on the street all over Spain and all it means is that this restaurant buys frozen paella, all pre-prepared, and merely heats it up when you order it. I actually tasted a sample of this wanna-be paella when a friend of mine ordered it and they brought it out in 15 minutes. Not only was the rice still hard, but the seafood in the dish was scarce and hard to find.
On the other hand, if you go to a restaurant and order paella only to be informed by your waiter you must call ahead for it to be prepared, do not be too disappointed! It just means they take pride in crafting their paella from scratch from individual orders and it will be completely worth it when you return the next day. Another hint my program director shared with us: if your paella still has eyes, it’s good.
I’ve been told that paella is a popular lunch to get on a beach day, so when I visited the beach of Salobreña, a mere hour bus ride from Granada, I clearly had to partake in this Spanish tradition. This freshly prepared for the lunch crowd, affirmed by a small sign I saw next to the bar indicating that all the seafood was sourced from the nearby Malaga seaport. (Yes, it was exactly as delicious as it looks, if not better…and it had eyes!)
Salobreña beach, it’s really quite nice.
The moral of this story is…don’t come to Spain and leave without trying paella! Especially if you’re in the Valencian region of Spain. And since many bars offer it as a tapa, there really is no excuse.