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Know all you need to about wonderful city breaks in Valencia? Now find out about its most famous dish - paella - ahead of your visit so you know exactly what to order and how best to enjoy it.
Paella rice plates originate from the Valencia region, where they are held in high regard. The ingredients used are constantly discussed and achieving the perfect texture is essential. Every restaurant must compete with the love that Valencians have for the paella made by their own parents and grandparents.
In fact, the art of making the perfect paella rice is highly respected by top chefs in Valencia. Once you have tasted it prepared correctly, you will also come to appreciate this seemingly simple dish.
"Did you know that Paella is the name of the pan it is cooked in? If your dish isn't cooked in that specific pan, is just referred to as a rice dish, rather than a paella."
So, when and where is paella rice from?
The autonomous community of Valencia, on Spain's eastern coast, is the proud birthplace of paella - one of Spain's most famous exports - and here the dish is not only enjoyed every weekend with family, it is also a reflection of the history and amazing local produce of the region.
Due to its location and geography, Valencia experiences very hot Mediterranean summers, it enjoys fertile soils, and the vast Albufera Lake, just outside the city, creates a convenient wetland area where rice flourishes.
First introduced by the Moors some 1,200 years ago, rice soon became a key ingredient and Valencia the most important rice-producing area in the country, producing the particularly fat grains of rice, or ‘bomba’, so perfect for paella.
Paella began as a dish enjoyed by farmers and day labourers and was made with rice and other ingredients, from tomatoes and artichokes to snails and even water rats.
It was often cooked over a wood fire in time for lunch and was eaten straight from the wide and shallow pan, the paella, from which the dish gets its name. That tradition has been maintained ever since and if you see a Valencian group enjoying paella, often they won't serve it on plates, they'll eat it directly from the pan.
What makes paella rice plate?
The first record of a paella-like meal in the region dates back to the 15th or 16th Century, often referred to as a version of Italian risotto. The Valencian rice dish wasn't officially recognised until the 18th Century, but it was likely enjoyed by many long before then, and its origins can be traced several centuries back.
If you've eaten paella, you'll understand it is nothing like creamy risotto. In fact, it is prepared with all the ingredients in the paella dish and then, rather than constant stirring, it must stay untouched over a wood-burning fire until most of the liquid evaporates.
A waiter will often tilt the paella dish to present it to you at your table, this shows that it has been cooked to the perfect point, and solidified just enough that it won't slip off the dish. Of course, it's not solid, the rice is still fluffy, the ingredients moist. But if you have to scrape to get some rice stuck to the bottom of the pan at the edges and slightly caramelised, then you've hit the jackpot. That is known as socarrat and is a delicacy.
For countless years, Valencians, and the Spanish as a nation, have treasured this meal. Different recipe adaptations have been created to give it a special touch - though not all of them can be considered true paella.
Paella rice refers to the try rice dish described above, and you can have it with seafood, with rabbit and chicken - the traditional Valencian way - or with a whole variety of ingredients, ranging from black rice tinted with squid ink to vegetable, duck and artichoke to pork. There is even paella senyoret - the little lord's paella - which has all the shellfish, such as prawns, pre-peeled, so you don't have to get your hands dirty. There is no limit to chefs' imaginations.
Then you'll often find arroz meloso served as an option alongside paella. These are more similar to a risotto, made in a cauldron and served with a creamier sauce, or an arroz caldoso, which is served in a broth. But these can't be called paella.
But for Valencians, there is only one true paella - paella valenciana - and after much debate among purists, it's been boiled down to the following ingredients...
How to make
Valencia's paella has a protected status as an asset of cultural interest. Only 10 ingredients are considered acceptable for making a truly traditional paella Valenciana, which will include only paella rice, chicken, rabbit, French beans, Valencian white beans, tomato, saffron, olive oil, water and salt.
A few other ingredients, such as garlic, rosemary, snails, paprika and artichoke, might make their way into the dish in some kitchens, but you’d be unlikely to find them in more traditional kitchens.
The real paella recipe
Our favourite recipe strays from the realm of the purists, offering a paella recipe that your guests will savour no matter your cooking experience or the ingredients you have on hand.
1 tbsp olive oil
½ whole chicken, cut into six pieces
½ rabbit, cut into pieces
1 head garlic
1 tomato, finely chopped
1 can butter beans
Salt to taste
1 tsp mild paprika
1 pinch saffron
1 pinch dried thyme
1 pinch dried rosemary
4 cups uncooked white rice, bomba, if available near you.
Start by heating olive oil in a paella pan with
Add the chicken, rabbit, and garlic. Cook until browned.
Add the finely chopped tomato, butter beans, peas, and green beans
Season with paprika and mix well
Fill the pan with water and bring to boil
Simmer for one hour
Season with salt, saffron, thyme and rosemary
Stir in rice, cover, and reduce heat to low
Simmer until all liquid has been absorbed
Classic paella restaurants in Valencia
We've shared with you the history of how it's made. Now, we'll provide our list of classic Valencian rice restaurants for you to experience this tasty dish as originally intended. Remember, due to being served in that vast paella dish, you need a minimum of two people to order the paella. And these restaurants are incredibly popular with locals, so you'll need to reserve ahead of time, particularly for weekends.
It will take about 40 minutes to prepare your paella, so keep hunger at bay with a couple of starters. And remember that the price you see on the menu is per person, so times it by the number of people who will be tucking into the delicious dish to get an idea of what your bill will be.
Head to L'Estibador Arroceria to enjoy spectacular oceanic panoramas served up alongside your paella. Looking right out over the beach, the interior is minimalist to make the most of those fabulous views. You'll need to order the Valencian paella with 24 hours' notice so they can get all the fresh ingredients, but you also have a whole variety of other paellas to choose from. Why not try cuttlefish and fresh vegetables, turbot with garlic and red prawns or Iberian pork with mushrooms and garlic. Combine it with a local wine and the sea coastal soundtrack of El Saler and you have the perfect Valencian experience.
Alqueria del Brosquil
Offers a truly elegant experience surrounded by lush orange groves and the fields of Valencia's huertas - kitchen gardens. Just set back from El Pinedo beach, south of the city, it opened its doors in 2008 and has become a firm favourite with locals looking for an elegant experience. A traditional farmhouse building set around a pretty patio, it has an indoor area and a covered terrace. Try the senyoret paella, splash out on a lobster paella, or keep it simple with just vegetables.
At Casa Carmela, paella has been celebrated for an entire century, bringing together family and friends to share this steaming rice dish just steps from the city's main beach. A family business, the paella is still made following the recipes used by the owner Toni Novo's great grandmother and cooked over an open fire. The fish comes from Spain's waters and the meat directly from a local huerta (farm). What started as a shack on the beach in 1922 is now set in a traditional beach house, its interiors decorated with traditional tiles and overflowing with locals every weekend.
Alquería del Pou Restaurant
City of Arts and Sciences
Set in a traditional farmhouse and surrounded by fields, Alqueria del Pou gives the impression of being in the countryside, but it's actually just a short walk from the City of Arts and Sciences. Look across the landscape and the futuristic buildings seem to rise from the very fields. A charming spot where a table on the covered terrace sees you surrounded by greenery, combine Valencian, vegetable or seafood paellas with traditional dishes such as clotxinas (Valencian mussels) or titaina, a mix of peppers, tuna, tomato and pine nuts.
A sleek, contemporary spot, set just steps from Patacona Beach, Mimar is all natural woods and crisp white tablecloths. Ope for the covered terrace to enjoy the sea breeze and sea views, or head to second floor for sweeping coastal vistas and elegant surrounds. Chef Raúl Aleixandre, winner of the National Gastronomy Prize, is at the helm, uniting tradition and modernity with a series of paellas, fish and meat dishes. Choose between delicious paellas, opt for a fideuá - a paella made with noodles instead of rice and from Gandia, down the coast - or a rossejat, made with an extra-fine noodle.
El Mirador Only You Hotel, Valencia
On the top floor of the five-star Only You Hotel , chef José Clemente brings a splash of glamour to Valencia's most famous dish. El Mirador restaurant blends stunning city views with local produce, sourced from Valencia's surrounds. In an elegant setting of royal blues, warm woods and glitzy chandeliers, you can enjoy Valencian paella, the senyoret seafood paella, duck and foie gras or a fideuá with prawns, garlic and parsley. While you wait for your paella, tuck into tapas dishes and sharing plates that celebrate Valencian and international cuisine.
Mikkonos Beach Club,
Mikkonos Beach Club is a paradise tucked away on El Saler Beach, just seven miles from the city centre. You can hop the bus, drive, or follow a cycle route that wends its way along the coast to reach this wild beach, where Mikkonos is set among the dunes. Built of natural stone with floor-to-ceiling windows to maximise those dune views, the whole walled window opens up in warm weather so you can enjoy your paella with a sea breeze. With a whole gamut of paella and rice dishes, from seafood to pork, artichokes and truffle and monkfish, scallops and prawns, you can whet your appetite with adventurous croqueta flavours and cuttlefish pasta.
If you're headed to the sunshine city of Valencia, the one food you must try is paella. The birthplace of Spain's most famous dish takes great pride in its gastronomic gift and with so many amazing restaurants to choose from, set in the fields, on the coast or in the city, you're sure to find your perfect spot.
What new experiences can you have in the unique Valencia region? Take a look at some of the Valencia travel guides here.