Valencia is the undisputed home of paella and the traditional dish “was born” owing to two cultures in Spain – Roman and Arab. And why? The Moors in Spain introduced and started cultivating rice in the 10th century. Moreover, Valencia has always been one of the largest natural sea ports in the Mediterranean basin and the climate and soil conditions have always predisposed the cultivation of rice there.
A very interesting fact is that the Arabic “arroz” is the Spanish word for “rice”. So, inhabitants of the Eastern coast of the country, especially those in Valencia, started preparing various rice dishes enriching them with fish and spices, sometimes adding vegetables, beans and garlic, rosemary, saffron and paprika. Thus the consumption of rice became part of their everyday life under the Moorish dominion and later in the 15th century.
In the beginning the prototype of paella was Moorish Kings’ servants’ main dish which they prepared in a pot from the leftovers from the royal banquets and which they brought home. I will open a bracket here. Some think that the name is derived from the Arab word for “leftovers”, i.e. “baqiyah”, which emphasizes once again the Arab origin of the dish. The bracket closed. Step-by-step the rice-based dish turned into Valencia farmers’ main daily meal which they seasoned with ingredients from the countryside (as mentioned above, tomatoes, beans, garlic and so on and so forth) or fresh fish and seafood (due to the closeness of the sea). They also added some meat (chicken, rabbit, duck or snails, or all of them) and a pinch of saffron to the meal on religious feasts or other special occasions. Just a quick note here. As a matter of fact, true paella Valenciana is made of chicken, rabbit and snails with white and green beans but with no seafood.
How did they cook and eat paella? Principally, the Valencians of the 18th century cooked the rice-based meal in pans called calderos in the open air. It was quicker and more practical. Traditionally, they ate it straight from those pans using a wooden spoon. Speaking about the utensils, it’s high time I told you how the second culture of Spain (i.e. the Ancient Romans) influenced paella and even gave its name. Soooo …..
I will start from here. The word “Pa” comes from the ancient Sanskrit language and it means “to drink”. The Ancient Romans used it and coined words like “Patera”, “Patina” and “Patella” which referred to the container for drinking or the utensil for cooking (i.e. the cooking pan which paella is made in). The word entered the old Valencian language which was based on Latin and was similar to Catalan. That way the name of the dish derived from the Latin “patella” (or a “pan”) and it is actually, related to the cooking utensil, not the dish iteself or its ingredients.
Having read about the two possible origins (the Roman and Arab) of the name of paella, most probably you will be curious to know one very interesting and romantic legend. If yes, here it is briefly. Once upon a time there lived a young man who prepared a casserole of rice for his fiancée and while cooking he was constantly repeating “para ella” which means “for her” in Spanish. That’s the reason why some people think the name is of Spanish origin. Moreover, based on this legend the cooking of paella is always left to Spanish men (no matter that women usually do the cooking at home), very much like BBQ is a typical “game” for men only, in numerous countries around the world.
Having paella at lunch or dinner with a woman in Spain, in Valencia in particular, you shouldn’t forget to order something to drink. What would you say about a glass of Sangria? Yes, why not?! Truth is in wine. 🙂 The Spaniards enjoy this fruity wine punch all day long. Basically it’s made from red wine (very often with Rioja or other various types of Spanish reds), fruit juices, soda water, sometimes with some brandy in it and of course, it is flavoured with some spices and fruits. There is a type of Sangria typical for Valencia mainly (i.e. Sangria Blanco) which is prepared following the same recipe but with white wine. Still being in Southern Spain, you could also order zurra which is a version of the wine-based punch but with peaches and nectarines.
Before ending this post for bohemians, I would say some few last words about the cool Spanish drink but I will have to bring you back again to the Ancient Roman times. Would you mind it? 🙂 In Ancient Roman and then medieval times, water is thought to have been unsafe to drink. It was used for washing. As to milk, it was considered the food for babies only. So, the safest liquid had to contain some alcohol so that it could remove bacteria from the organism and protect adults, youngsters and even toddlers from various diseases. Consequently, people consumed wine. Moreover they prepared fruity wines from various fruits and berries, adding some spices so that the beverages could get a different flavour.
As far as Spanish wine punches are concerned, in 200BC the Ancient Romans actively planted the Iberian Peninsula with red grapes that grew pretty well on that territory. The wine shipping commerce developed and the nice Spanish wines were exported on a large-scale and satisfied the Romans’ drinking preferences. The locals called their fruity wines and wine punches Sangria and they have been enjoyed widely ever since.
What more do you need?!
…. After the EURO 2016 football match won by Italy vs Spain 😀 …. The answer is simple: A beautiful lady on a starry night in Valencia, a plate of a delicious Paella Valenciana (or Seafood Paella) and a glass of Sangria Blanco. This is almost every man’s dream (especially, the dream of an Italian) 😉