Paella is as much a part of Spanish culture as flamenco and Antoni Gaudi. It’s the lifeblood of the national cuisine but like any national dish, there are regional variations.
So where are the best places to try traditional paella? And where do things get a local twist?
Read on for a guide to regional paella.
Paella was originally a peasant dish that evolved in the fields of Valencia on Spain’s east coast. Farmers would to feed it to their workers for lunch which is why truly authentic versions include things like snails, rabbit and garden greens. The farmers used whatever was on hand and in season to throw in the pot. This is also why paella is traditionally made by men and is cooked out in the open.
The coastline of Southern Spain is the official birthplace of seafood paella. Because of the abundance of fresh prawns, squid, fish and mussels available locally, it made sense to throw them in the paella pan.
The town of Huelva takes it one step further with its local delicacy: lobster paella. People flock from all over Spain (and the world) just to try this dish.
Andalusia is also home to one of the simplest versions of paella: white paella. This dish is usually served as part of a tapas menu. Made from bomba rice cooked in stock and white wine, and flavoured with ham and salami, white paella is best eaten with beer or a light red wine.
Galicia in the north western corner of Spain is home to the well-trodden pilgrim walking trail, the Camino de Santiago, as well as the regional specialty, paella negra. Literally translating to black paella, this seafood-laden dish is coloured black with squid ink. Another name for this dish is arroz negra (black rice) and there is some contention as to whether it’s a real paella. Some people say yes, other people argue that it’s not only not a paella; that it’s not from Galicia. Catalonia and Andalusia also lay claim to inventing this dish. We’re not going to take on this centuries-long debate; we’ll just say that it’s delicious and we can make it for you if you decide you want it at your next paella party!
Other types of paella
There are three other common types of paella; vegetarian, red meat and ‘mixto’ which is a mix of seafood, chicken and red meat. None of these dishes are particular to a region and are generally available nationally.