Photographs: Parker McAnally
An iconic symbol of Valencia – the aromatic Paella dish. Paella is the perfect representation of both Valencian culture and cuisine. Paella is well-known throughout Spain, but “Paella Valenciana” is known to be the original recipe – it is a savory blend of rice, chicken, rabbit, vegetables, green beans, garrofons, and saffron. Although traditionally snails were also added to the paella, nowadays the Valencian restaurants choose to leave this ingredient out.
The complete and unforgettable paella experience is available in many places around Valencia. It is a chance to witness the preparation and taste paella valenciana from farm-to-table.
South of the city center, is Parc Natural de l’Albufera (Albufera Natural Park). Here lies L’Albufera de València (The Valencia lagoon), the largest coastal lagoon in Spain. Originally considered to be salt-water, environmental changes have now left it a freshwater lagoon full of biodiversity. Within Albufera are endless rice fields, where the main ingredient for paella is grown. More than 120 million kilos of rice are produced out of Albufera. To have a closer look to the breathtaking lagoon, an approximately 40 minute tour on a traditional “albuferenic” boat is available from a small village called El Palmar. This is an opportunity to view the many rice fields and witness the diverse flora and fauna interact in its natural environment.
After viewing the rice fields of Albufera, journey to the north of Valencia to view where fresh produce for paella is grown and visit the customary home for farmers – “La Barraca de Toni Montoliu”.
At La Barraca, you have the chance to meet a paella chef and learn step-by-step how to prepare it. Listen closely as it is explained to cook the dish over a soft wood to create distinct flavor versus a smoky aroma. Other tips are given such as not to over stir the meat to prevent tiny pieces with bones broken up in the dish. Pro tip: create a circle opening in the middle of the sizzling meat to add paprika, tomatoes, and more.
While the paella cooks, rest in the shade of the farm while having a few drinks. Then, embark on a horse-drawn wagon as you are taken into the past to visit La Barraca of the farm. You are greeted by roosters, grape vines, and a historical account of La Barraca. Stepping inside, witness the Barraca layout with the traditional triangular roof and bamboo hanging shelves on the top floor to dry crops.
On your ride back, enjoy the views of the crop fields and make your way into the restaurant to enjoy tapas, paella, and a fruit dessert. After a full day, there is nothing more satisfying than the first bite into paella valenciana.
Paella is a dish that must be tasted authentically within its place of origin. Such a unique experience can only be found in the province Valencia – yet another reason to say YES to Valencia!