Yes, you read that correctly: there really IS a World Paella Day. Spearheaded by the city and region of Valencia, where the paella was first conceived, the day is aimed at promoting and getting more and more cooks to get on board with making the iconic dish…
In the city of Sueca, Valencia, there is even an annual International Paella Contest, which this year was held just yesterday in the municipality whose biggest business is – unsurprisingly – rice processing. The timing of the celebration also coincides with the peak rice harvesting season, which is typically the month of September.
So, it would be fair to say that the Spanish are serious about their food. And it is this pride that occasionally incites controversy when gastronomical boundaries are crossed. Just two years ago, British TV chef Jamie Oliver sparked outrage when he published his recipe for a chicken and chorizo paella.
You might be asking yourself why this is outrageous. Well, the answer is that, although a yummy tapa or cheese compliment, chorizo is firmly not a traditional paella ingredient. If you’ve never lived in Spain before, you’d be forgiven for making this mistake, but expats living here would know this is a culinary faux pas. It’s all to do with the history of paella…
Although the dish is now emblematic of Spanish cuisine and is served internationally with various adaptations, its roots are in fact extremely humble. Originally invented by campesinos – peasants working the land in the Spanish countryside – paella was essentially a mishmash of staple foods which could be easily procured back in the eighteenth century.
The core ingredients of an authentic Valencian paella are rice, rabbit or chicken, duck (optional), snails (optional), beans, tomatoes, rosemary, paprika, saffron, garlic (optional) salt, olive oil and water. Contrary to popular belief, the mixed paella with prawns, mussels, chicken and pork, for example, is not actually the original one: this was a twentieth century addition when demand for the dish grew.
Whichever paella floats your boat, the message is that September is the time to enjoy this gorgeous Spanish dish. If you’ve got an original – or controversial – paella recipe, let us know in the comments below!