Travel Spain – Experiencing Paella

By Anne-Marie Dingemans
Spain has so many nice traditional dishes, it's hard to pick a favorite one. I am definitely a social eater, so the environment, presentation and company are very important to my overall ‘eating experience' as well. So if we take all that into consideration, I would say I would pick paella over the Cocido Madrileno, Jamon, Croquetas, and the hundreds of other Spanish delicious dishes. An added bonus is that paella is one of the few dishes that isn't soaked in olive oil, so it's also a good option for the calorie-conscious and the ones with delicate digestive systems.
The best paella I've ever eaten was in this small village just outside of Valencia, in the heart of the National Park Albufeira, a huge fresh water lake, only separated from the sea by dunes. The Albufeira lake is the source of water for the huge paella-rice fields in this area. Eating a paella in the birth place of the dish raises your expectations, so it was even more impressive that I wasn't disappointed.
I said before that the overall experience was important to me, and eating paella ‘the right way' surely is a pleasure. ‘The right way', for me at least, is going to a specialty restaurant where the paella is prepared to order, on wood fires, and the entire pan is served at your table. You scoop up the rice, trying to get the crunchy bits off the bottom. Seriously, after you've eaten one of these, getting a plate of paella from a huge deep pan somewhere in the back of the kitchen, is just not the same. You'll be spoiled for life.
Paellas come in all kinds of different flavors and types. In the Valencia province paellas are also often referred to as ‘Arroces' (Rices). Perhaps the best known is the Seafood paella, but there is also the meat paella (traditionally containing chicken, rabbit and duck), Fish paella, vegetarian paella, black paella (made with squid and it's own ink – resulting in a black colored paella. It's really very tasty), ‘arroz a banda' with calamares and lots and lots of ali-oli (garlic mayonnaise) and many more. Further, there are paellas which aren't even made of rice, but with vermicelli (a very thin spaghetti).
You see, there is a paella for everyone, and every family has its own secret recipe. This is a nice website with different paella recipes for those of you who want to make one. My personal tip: keep the layer of rice very thin, one inch approximately. Happy cooking!

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