True Valencian Paella

Rice, the foundation of paella, has been part of Valencia’s history for over 1,000 years. It was first grown by the Moors in the 8th century in the local wetlands, which have a perfect climate for rice cultivation. Today, the Albufera Natural Park is a special protected area located just outside of Valencia where 35,000 acres of rice grow. This freshwater lagoon also attracts hundreds of species of birds, making it both naturally and culturally significant.

Local rice farmers today still utilize the Moorish irrigation system in the paddies, producing different varieties of these prized white grains (Senia, Bomba and Albufera). The rice produced here has the Denomination of Origin seal, meaning its quality and origin are guaranteed. In order to be considered true Valencian paella, it must be made using one of these local varieties, with Bomba being the most famous. These grains can absorb lots of liquid without losing their firmness and they absorb the flavors of the other ingredients as well.

Valencia has hundreds of rice recipes, but the authentic paella is made with chicken and rabbit. It will also have butter beans (garrofó), flat green beans (bajoqueta), tomatoes, saffron and a pinch of paprika (pimentón). Paella actually gets its name from the large pan in which it is cooked, and the traditional cooking process is done over a hardwood fire.

Other rice dishes you may find are paella de marisco which contains seafood, or paella mixta which will have a mixture of seafood, chicken and maybe peppers or beans. There is also arroz negro (paella negra) which has black rice colored with squid ink. Then there is arroz caldoso, best translated as rice served in stock or broth, or a creamier arroz meloso.

Arroz seco (dry rice) is the classic rice dish that most people go for in a paella. This indicates that the rice has absorbed all the stock, and the final result should have a thin layer of rice coating the bottom of the pan. 

Bear in mind some of these tips when eating paella (or other rice dishes) at a Spanish restaurant: 

  • The minimum order for a rice dish is usually for two people.
  • The hot paella (the pan) should be brought to the table.
  • Most Spanish people eat rice at lunchtime, and families often eat from the pan.

If you’re looking to try authentic dishes while in Spain, let our team guide you in choosing the best restaurants.