Paella is a quintessentially Spanish dish and one that has to be tried by anyone visiting the country. It is an incredibly versatile rice based meal that can easily be altered to suit dietary requirements and many different varieties can be found around the country and even within the same restaurant.

Paella is a dish to be shared, being named after the large wok-like pan in which it is cooked. A paella is always for a minimum of two people, though you will see much larger ones, for example in university canteens. The recipe originates from Valencia, in the south east coastal region of Spain and has spread across the country and beyond.

paella valenciana

Paella valenciana

My first paella was eaten in Madrid on a school exchange and was described by my Spanish teacher as a “tourist” paella as it contained a mixture of red meat, chicken and unshelled mussels and prawns. The later proved interesting to eat, as they were mixed in with the rice and sauce, along with whole chicken feet!

Eleven years later, I had a much better experience on an Erasmus staff training week at Universitat Politècnica de València, where I was lucky enough to try paella valenciana. This is the traditional version from the city of Valencia, containing rabbit, chicken and green beans, usually served with wedges of lemon and optional red wine or sangría as in the photo above.  It is so popular that artwork by Kukuxumusu based on the ingredients was all over the public transport including bus tickets!

metrovalencia tickets with kukxumusu artwork

Photo of Metrovalencia tickets sourced from

On another occasion that week I tasted the striking paella de mariscos, full of seafood and served with rice dyed black with squid ink! There are many, many types of paella on offer and if you are eating out with friends in Spain, I recommend giving them a try.

For those who would like to have a go at making their own paella, recipes are widely available online to experiment with. The contents of a good paella, much like a risotto, are limited only by the imagination and personal taste. Just remember to make enough to share!

Written by Adam Parkin


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