Paella—the Valencian rice dish with mixed meats, seafood, or vegetables—is pretty well known nowadays, but as with so many foods, not a lot of people are aware of its history. Paella comes from humble origins; it was originally a farm laborer dish with roots in Valencia, Spain. Unsurprisingly, it uses the type of rice the area is famed for: Valencia white rice, otherwise known as Calasparra or Bomba rice. (At Söntés, we use Bomba, or Valencia if we’re out of Bomba, rice from Matiz importers.)
When it originated, paella was cooked with just vegetables. If protein was included, it was land snails, sometimes rabbit or duck, and if you were well off you might also add chicken. The addition of seafood and pork to the dish came later, and is not technically authentic. Of course, today’s paella has become a base for all kinds of ingredients, and there are many varieties of “fusion” paella out there too.
Historically, paella was cooked in large batches so that it would last all day and even into the next. As it gained in popularity and was served in restaurants, seafood was added to sell it to tourists and showcase the great Spanish seafood market. Paella was appreciated by those in the restaurant industry because it was a quick meal that was already prepared. (I have to admit, we chose it for Thursdays on First for a reason!)
Although it’s not on the menu right now, Söntés used to serve paella in house. When I started as head chef here, it just made sense to me that we should do it on a large scale for Thursdays on First. Also, it’s a dish that I’ve practiced for many years and that I know I can do well. Fortunately, it continues to be a hit! To give you some idea of the volume we go through, we sell about 35 kilos (77 lbs) of Bomba rice at our booth at Thursdays on First each week. That’s a lot of rice!
Hope to see you at the event sometime soon!