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One of the biggest attractions that Valencia has to offer its guests is its culinary culture. Valencian cuisine is well-known world wide, and the star dish of Valencia atests to that: the paella. These days, who hasn’t heard of paella? It is a receipe that has crossed all borders y can be found on half of the world’s restaurants. More importantly, who wouldn’t want to try paella—a real paella—when they come to Valencia?
The Valencian paella is a receipe whose main ingredient is rice, which is cooked on a shallow metal frying pan or paella, as this pan is known in the Valencian language and whose name gives title to the dish it is used to make. There are many ways to prepare a paella which depend on the ingredients being added to the rice, but tradition dictates that a real Valencian paella is made with chicken, rabbit, bajoqueta (green beans), and garrofón (cannellini bean), as well as saffron or artificial coloring, which turn the rice into its distinctive yellow color.
Another detail that unmistakably distinguishes the authentic Valencian paella from other rice dishes is that it is prepared over a wood fire, which has a less harsh combustion, gives the rice a different consistancy, and primes the dish with an unrivaled characteristic flavor. And, because it couldn’t be done any other way in Valencia, the fire must be made using wood from the trunk of an orange tree.
The popularization of the Valencian paella and its international circulation has encouraged the evolution of the original receipe into inumerable versions that share nothing with the real paella except the main ingredient, the yellow colored rice. The Valencian paella has an incredibly long list of “stepsiblings” or “distant cousins”, like the seafood paella, vegetable paella, cabbage and cod paella, mixed paella, that is flavored with beef and with fish… Perhaps the most emblematic version is the seafood paella, which is generally very well liked, and in most cases even more than the original receipe, and yet it cannot be considered a real paella.
Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, a reputable Spanish novelist, has a good description of the uncertainty that is the Valencian paella with a touch of irony: “The internationalized paella is rice dish in which you mix in meat and fish and any vegetable, with the exception of banana.”
Aside from paella, Valencian cuisine offers a wide variety of rice dishes. The “cultura arrocera”—rice culture—of its gastronomy is so eloquent that dishes that use rice as the main ingredient are numbered in the tens of dozens, from rice broths (like rice with beets or rice with beets and turnips) to dry dishes (like arroz a banda or black rice), as well as oven-baked rice dishes.
There is no question: if you like rice, you’ll never go hungry in Valencia. And if you choose wisely where to get your Valencian paella, or any other rice dish, the palatable pleasure of the Valencian cuisine will be an unforgettable memory.