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Paella: Six reasons you have probably been doing it wrong

Have you been eating truly authentic paella? It's harder to come by than you might think.

Paella: Six reasons you have probably been doing it wrong
Photo: Jan Harenburg / Wikimedia Commons.

The self-proclaimed online “paella police”, Wikipaella, presented on Monday their latest list of restaurants that meet their strict paella authenticity standards.

While it's common to see eateries around the country boasting to serve “real” versions of the Valencian rice dish, Wikipaella likes to remind everyone that the “cultural heritage” of the meal is actually often lost in adaptations that artificially colour the rice yellow rather than using the traditional saffron.

This year Wikipaella awarded 262 restaurants with their stamp of approval for serving up authentic paella that respects the tradition. Most, of course are in Valencia province (133), while Alicante has 77, Castellón 33 and 11 in Madrid.

Wikipaella even named one restaurant in the United States and one in Germany as demonstrating “the international character of our most popular dish”.

So how do you know if you've been duped by paella? The Local looks at some of the easiest ways to tell that your paella is subpar.

1. It has extra ingredients

According to Wikipaella, there are three types of paella – paella Valenciana, arroz a banda (or senyoret) and paella with rabbit and snails (paella de conejo y caracoles).

Each have slightly different variations in their ingredients, but the main traditional ingredients are the same: rice, extra virgin olive oil, saffron and tomato. 

Arroz a banda has seafood, which includes cuttlefish, shrimp and angler fish as the most frequently used ingredients. Less common is squid or mussels.

Paella Valenciana has chicken, rabbit and often snails or duck. Pork ribs and meatballs are not used as frequently but still get the OK from Wikipaella.

The site recognizes that there are always regional and seasonal differences among recipes, such as adding artichokes, but there are definite no-nos. If your paella has carrots, mushrooms or chorizo, you are being duped.

Wikipaella intends to honour places that stay true to tradition rather than experimentation.

2. It is not cooked over a fire in a wide shallow pan


Photo: Jan Harenburg / Wikimedia Commons.

Unless you see somewhere on site that a large, wide, shallow pan is being heated over a fire with the ingredients inside, you're not getting the real deal.

The word “paella” actually is used in Valencia to describe the special steel pan for cooking the dish. The traditional preparation involves cooking the rice, vegetables and meat together over a heat source like hot coals, though Wikipaella gives special awards to those who use firewood. 

Just 48 of the 262 restaurants this year were distinguished for doing so.

3. It is served in an individual portion


Photo: STR/AFP. 

The recipes recommended by Wikipaella are all for large batches, serving four people. The site says that true paella should be able to be eaten “directly from the pan with a wooden spoon”, implying a sharing culture.

So this isn't meant to be a solitary meal – be skeptical if a restaurant seems to just be serving up individually prepared plates rather than steaming hot pans. That single dollop is probably not fresh.

4. You have it for dinner


People eat paella in Ibiza. Photo: Jaime Reina/AFP.

As previously mentioned, Valencia as the birthplace of the famous rice dish has the vast majority of traditional restaurants. But arroz a banda can be found in restaurants across Spain, especially touristy coastal areas.

A full list of the eateries deemed top-quality can be found on Wikipaella's website here.

But don't forget that paella is served in the afternoon during lunchtime – it shouldn't be a dinner menu item. Locals know better.

5. It is not fresh

Photo: Philippe Desmazes/AFP.

The ingredients for paella are supposed to be fresh and Wikipaella likes to highlight the places that pluck their own vegetables right from the garden.

So, no – those frozen dinner versions found in supermarkets should not be able to call themselves paella. Don't even bother.

6. It isn't made by someone who “carries paella in their hearts”


Photo: Cesar Rangel/AFP.

In order to get the thumbs-up from the Wikipaella deciders, the chefs must commit to its mission and promise to “carry paella in our hearts, and travel with it as far as we can”.

So that's the main question to ask yourself: Does this restaurant really care about the centuries-old tradition of paella? Or are they just trying to get tourists and non-natives in the door? 

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FOOD & DRINK

Six Barcelona bars serving delicious free tapas

The Local's Esme Fox, a long-term Barcelona resident, shares some of her favourite city bars that serve free tapas when you buy a drink.

Six Barcelona bars serving delicious free tapas

Spain is of course celebrated for its tapas, small plates of food, designed for sharing and consisting of favourites such as patatas bravas (fried potatoes topped with spicy sauce), pimientos de padrón (fried green peppers) and croquetas (croquettes of different varieties such as ham or mushrooms). 

One theory is that tapas were invented in order to cover your wine or beer glass, so that flies and other bugs wouldn’t fly in. The barman would give customers a piece of bread topped with jamón (ham) or queso (cheese) in order to act as a lid or in Spanish ‘tapa’, hence the name tapas.

Although most cities in Spain no longer serve free tapas when you buy a drink, there are still some cities where you are guaranteed a free snack. This is still true in the southern cities of Granada, Almería and Jaén, in León and Segovia, as well as a few others dotted around the country.

Despite this, you can still find the odd bar serving the old-fashioned free tapa in some of Spain’s largest and most expensive cities, including Madrid and Barcelona.

So, next time you’re in the Catalan capital, save some money by visiting one of these bars, where you’ll still get served a free tapa along with your drink.  

READ ALSO: Top ten Madrid bars serving free tapas, one for each barrio

Keep in mind, you won’t be served a free drink if you just order a coffee and sometimes not with a soft drink either, it’s usually when you buy a glass of beer or wine.

Ca’l Chusco

This small traditional bar in the old fisherman’s neighbourhood of Barceloneta offers one free tapa every time you order a drink. It’s usually something small and simple, but if you’re still hungry then you can always order one of their delicious paellas or plates or seafood too. 

Raspall
This cute and contemporary little tapas joint, situated on the edge of Gracia, is so popular that it often gets very crowded, so get here early if you want a spot at the bar. It costs around €2-4 for a drink and a small tapas dish, which you can choose from a large selection. There’s everything from croquetas and hummus to small sausages.

Pappa e Citti

It’s not just authentic Spanish bars offering free tapas in Barcleona, at traditional Sardinian restaurant Pappa e Citti in the barrio of Gracia, they offer it too. Be aware that free tapas with your drink is only served between 6-9pm. Small tapas offerings may have an Italian twist or maybe something simple like a piece of bread topped with cream cheese and caramelised onions.

La Xula Taperia

In the heart of the Gracia neighbourhood, this modern and stylish bar offers the closest thing to a Granadino-style free plate of tapas. Rather than just a small piece of bread topped with an ingredient, their free offerings include meatballs, anchovies or even ensaladilla rusa (Russian potato salad).

Casa Arana

Located in the heart of the Sant Andreu neighbourhood, not far from the metro stop of the same name, Casa Arana is a small local barrio bar. As well as the regular drinks on offer, they make their own beer in either tostada (toasted) or rubia (pale) varieties, which is served in a tall glass and looks like an ice cream sundae. The free tapa served with your drink is typically a piece of baguette topped with a simple ingredient such as jamón, chistorra (cured sausage) or cheese.

Cassette Bar

This tapas and cocktail bar located in the heart of Raval has a decidedly 80s themed vibe and name to match. They have been serving free tapas for the past 14 years – something typical like piece of bread and tomato topped with a slice of tortilla (Spanish omelette).

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