Paella

Posted on Monday, September 21st, 2009 at 7:57 am

Valencia is the home of paella, which has essentially become a national dish of Spain.  As with a terrine or a casserole, the name “paella” comes from the pan in which the dish is cooked.

While there are touristy paellas all over Valencia, I was determined to find a really good one.  A woman in the hostel directed me to La Riua (Calle del Mar, 27)  on my first night in town.  She said it was a very traditional place for paella.  I went with a couple of girls who were also staying at the hostel, but the place was fully booked for the night.  It is always a good sign when a place is packed with Spanish speakers, so we made a reservation for Monday afternoon.

In the good places (not the ones with pictures), you can only order paella for two or more people.  It is not a singles’ dish, which can be frustrating to a solo traveler who wants to try them all.  My group of four ordered two variations.  We asked for the arroz negro, a paella that is blackened with squid ink.  We also ordered the fideua, a Valencian variation of paella which uses noodles instead of rice.

The arroz negro arrived first.  It was beautifully black.  The rice was almost irridescent, like little black pearls.  I could not imagine how it would taste.  Would it be very fishy, or even slimy?  I think I expected some strong, distinct, inky(?) flavor, but it was actually quite clean tasting, like fresh ocean water.  The short-grain rice had a little bite but was very creamy, like a good risotto.  The bits along the edge of the pan were deliciously crispy.  Rings of the most tender squid dotted the rice.

Arroz Negro in Valencia Fideua in Valencia

The fideua was made with inch-long pieces of soft vermicelli.  Otherwise, the dish was like a traditional paella.  The primary flavor and color are derived from saffron, Spanish gold. It was beautifully topped with rings of calamari and whole langoustines, which were new to me.  Langoustines look like little lobsters, including tiny claws.  I learned to remove the heads and then peel the shells away from the tail meat.  They were very sweet and tender; they had big flavor for something so small.

Before I leave, I hope to also try Paella Valenciana, a traditional rice paella with beans, rabbit, chicken, and snails.

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