Thursday, March 25, 2021

National Spanish Paella Day

Paella. © Can Stock Photo / Alex9500

Did you know that this Saturday - March 27th - is National Spanish Paella Day?

I have a profound love of paella. It comes from my dad's side of the family. As a child, when I would visit Spain, paella became one of my favorite dishes. I associate the flavor with beautiful memories. 

So in honor of National Spanish Paella Day, I wanted to share a little bit of the history of this iconic dish.

Paella is a Spanish rice dish. Together with gazpacho, it is probably considered the national dish by many outside of the country. But this meal finds its roots in eastern Spain, and Spaniards all recognize it as being the official dish of Valencia. This city is of great importance to Spain due to its economic impact on the country. The Port of Valencia is the fifth busiest seaport in Europe and the busiest port in the Mediterranean. It employs 15,000 people who service more than 7,500 ships annually. All of this is important because of the trade goods that are imported (and exported) through this port. And one of those is saffron (more about that below).

Valencia is also Spain's leading rice producer. It was introduced to Spain by the Moors in 711. In fact, rice in Spanish is called "arroz" a word that finds its roots in Arabic ('arz), rather than Latin.

Paella cooking over an open fire. Jan Harenburg, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Originally, paella was a laborer's dish. Those who worked the rice fields cooked it in a wide pan over an open fire. These farmers would add whatever meats and vegetables they had available. The true original paella recipe used chicken or rabbit meat. Today, however, paella sprinkled with seafood - especially shrimp, octopus, and clams - is popular throughout the country.

The name paella itself is believed to come from the Valencian word for the unique shallow pan in which it is cooked. But there are many other lovely legends about where the dish got its name. (Challenge your kids to research it!)

Recipes are plentiful throughout Spain, but there are two main ingredients that identify it as being paella: the rice (of course) and saffron, the spice that gives it that unique yellow/golden appearance. In addition to chicken, rabbit, and seafood, other meats include sausage, and even duck. The chef may even go to great lengths to artfully arrange the dish before serving. Check out this example: 

Seafood paella. Image by Manuel Martín Vicente, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Since its beginning, however, this dish has been traditionally cooked and served outside, especially for large (family) gatherings. 

Such a fantastic dish. Here are links to some fabulous recipes online:

And if you'd like to use this mini lesson with your own students or children, check out my one-page reading passage! You can find it here in my TpT store.

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