The Humble Origins of Valencian Paella.

December 7, 2011

in History

In today’s information era when we are so open to worldwide facts, cultures and all sorts of events on-line, Paella is an internationally well-known and appreciated dish.

You can be offered Paella in countless Restaurants all over the world. Almost everybody in the western cultures has ever heard about it and millions have tasted it at least once in their lives.

What many people are not familiar with is the origin of this dish, the geographical area where it started, the reasons why centuries ago people started putting together these simple and natural ingredients to make that delicious combination.

It all started some centuries ago in a limited geographical area by the Mediterranean cost; the area surrounding the city of Valencia in Spain.

This is a fertile area close to the sea. Temperatures are the ones corresponding to Mediterranean climate, with maximums of around 30-35ºC (around 95ºF) in summer and minimums rarely dropping from 0 ºC (32ºF). Sweet water abounds due to the rivers (Turia and Xuquer) crossing the region and thanks to the irrigation channels build by the Romans while most of the  Iberian Peninsula was under the Roman Empire domination.

In these circumstances, local population based their living mainly on agriculture. They grew all kind of vegetables and fruits.

Also, in the center of this region there is a lake called Albufera. In its shores, thanks to the favorable climate conditions, they started growing rice after it was introduced into Europe from Asia by the first millennium BC.

We can imagine then the beginning…

When peasants went to work in the fields before sunrise, they started using a round, shallow metal recipient where they could cook for the day’s meal.

What did they have available to cook? What was affordable for them by this time?

Obviously what was available in the surroundings: vegetables and rice. This was cheap since was grown in the fields.

Also, they could hunt a rabbit or a duck (abundant in the lake). Or, they could add some chicken they raised in their backyards.

For seasoning they started using rosemary (very common wild bush in the area) and saffron.

As additional options, they could add some other local available “delicacies” like wild snails, very common in the area and very appreciated by the local population.

These are exactly the ingredients of the authentic Valencian paella.

As we can see, humble ingredients made a wonderful meal that, over the centuries, it became an internationally appreciated dish.



Maria Brull

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