Where does the word 'paella' come from

01:00 Mon 15th Apr 2002 |

A. Paella is the generic name of the 200 or so distinctive rice dishes of the Valencia region of Spain. There are all sorts of theories about the dishes' origins. The most romantic is that the dish was first prepared by a lover for his fiancee and that the word is a corruption of por ella (meaning 'for her' in Spanish). There is a grain of truth in this - although women are the traditional cooks in Spain, making paella is man's work, cooked in the fields by farm workers or as a barbecue treat for families on Sundays.

More likely, though, it takes its name from the two-handled frying pan, paella (from the Latin patella, meaning pan) in which the dish is often cooked. Locally, the dish is often called arroz, meaning rice.

Q. How is it made

A. The home of paella is Valencia, not only one of the largest ports ion the Mediterranean, but also an important rice-producing area. The seafood version of the dish, which most of us know, arrived with the Romans. They settled there in 13BC, bringing with them irrigation and farming techniques, which in turn were improved upon by the Moors, when the introduced rice to Spain.

Real paella is farmers' and farm labourers' food, cooked by the workers over a wood fire for the lunchtime meal, and is eaten in the fields at around two. It is made with rice and whatever is to hand; chicken, rabbit, snails, with a few beans added for texture and saffron for colour. It is traditionally eaten from the pan in which it was cooked, each person using his own wooden spoon.

There are certain rules about the ingredients that go into paella. For example, mushrooms and eels - other Valencian specialities - are never included in true paella.

Q. What about variations in Spain

A. There are many different variations, from the humble paella de verduras (green vegetable paella) to arroz negro (made with squid ink). In the last decade, a new version has emerged - fideue. Made with short spaghetti-like pasta, it's often served in the evenings, whereas the traditional rice paella was always a lunchtime meal.

Valencians say the perfect paella can only be made in their region - a supposition disputed in the rest of the country. They say it's due to the high concentration of lime in the water. For example, on Sundays families go into the hills or down to the beach to cook paella, and never risk using the local water: they always take their own.

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By Katharine MacColl

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