Chinese workers treated with paella, sangria and flamenco

Some 2,500 employees of a Chinese conglomerate arrived in Spain on Wednesday for an all-paid holiday treat complete with a giant paella and sangria party, in a trip hailed as helping the ailing local economy.

Chinese workers treated with paella, sangria and flamenco
A giant paella. Photo: AFP

The Tiens group said it had booked 1,650 hotel rooms, 70 buses and four entire high-speed trains for the one-week tour of Spain which takes in Madrid, the central city of Toledo and Barcelona, costing a grand total of €7million ($8 million).

In a statement, Tiens said the mainly Chinese workers would be treated to a giant paella and sangria party in the Spanish capital and a flamenco show.   

Tiens, founded by Chinese tycoon Li Jinyuan, employs some 8,000 people and operates in a variety of sectors including biotechnology, retail and tourism.   

It had already made headlines last year when it paid a holiday to France for 6,400 of its workers.

In a sign of the importance of the holiday for the debt-ridden Spanish capital, Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena met with Tiens Vice-President Liu Tianao.  

“The economic impact of this trip is significant for Madrid,” the city hall said in a statement.

“Every year, 300,000 Chinese tourists come to Spain, most of them big consumers, who devote 70 percent of their travel budget to purchases,” it added, citing information from a 2015 global tourism summit.

“The Chinese are the most profitable tourists for Spain's tourism sector.”  

Spain – the world's third tourism destination with 68 million visitors in 2015 – is seeking to attract more notoriously heavy-spending Chinese travellers, who often prefer France, Switzerland and Italy when they come to Europe.

This year, several new direct air routes from Spain to China are expected to be launched.

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Ten ingredients you should NEVER have in a real Spanish paella

Valencian paella has just been given protected status for its cultural significance, so if you really want to stay in the good books of your Spanish friends or family, here are ten ingredients you probably thought should go in paella but are strictly forbidden.

Valencian regional president Ximo Puig and Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez tuck into an authentic paella. Photo: José Jordán/AFP
Valencian regional president Ximo Puig and Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez tuck into an authentic paella. Photo: José Jordán/AFP

As Jamie Oliver knows full well, people from Spain – and the Valencia region in particular – can be pretty puritanical when it comes to how a paella should be made. 

The British star chef received a barrage of criticism and even death threats from Spain after adding an off-limits ingredient.

“Remove the chorizo. We don’t negotiate with terrorists. First warning,” one disgruntled Spaniard responded to Oliver’s Instagram post. 

“Why don’t you chop off your fingers and turn them into nuggets?” another critic went as far as saying.

‘Paellagate’ may have made international headlines and taken matters to the extreme, but it’s safe to say that many Valencians are fed up with their beloved paella – icon of Spanish cuisine and the Mediterranean diet – being butchered by chefs who don’t stick to the correct ingredients.

Think it’s a bit far-fetched? Well, on Tuesday the regional government of Valencia (where paella is originally from) decided to give their quintessential dish protected status for its cultural importance, detailing in an 8-page bulletin why it deserves the accolade.

READ ALSO: Five things you probably didn’t know about Spanish paella

Among the reasons to protect paella are “the distortions that could result from mass tourism” and the need to safeguard “traditional professions” associated with paella-making. 

So if it wasn’t clear already, Valencians and Spaniards in general paella pretty seriously. 

To be clear, there are different variations of paella which we’ll detail below, but overall you should avoid the following ingredients when preparing a paella or looking for an authentic paella at a restaurant. 

Peas: You often see peas in paellas but this is a big no-no in fact, it should be green beans instead.

Onion: That’s right, cebollas may be found in many Spanish recipes but add them to a paella and you may end up crying for two reasons.

Chorizo: A quintessential Spanish food product but as Jamie Oliver has been warned, not one that should be added to authentic paella.

Carrots: An extra ingredient to your vegetarian paella won’t hurt, right? The colour even matches that misplaced shrimp as well. ‘Chuck in some mushrooms while you’re at it, why won’t you?’ said no Valencian ever.

Mixing meat and seafood: As we’ll detail below, seafood and meat-based paellas are allowed by the paella vigilantes, but mixing chicken with shrimp isn’t a match made in heaven for them. 

A seafood and meat paella dished up in France. (Photo by Thibaud MORITZ / AFP)
A seafood and meat paella dished up in France. (Photo by Thibaud MORITZ / AFP)

Beef: If chicken, duck, rabbit and in some rare cases pork chops are allowed, why not diced-up beef, you may ask? Expect disapproving looks from Castellón down to Alicante.

Stock: Any proud Valencian will stay well clear of the different premade ‘caldo’ options on offer at Spanish supermarkets and make their own stock using water and the paella’s official ingredients.

Food colouring: So you’ve not been able to get your hands on some saffron and thought that by dyeing the food yellow a Spaniard wouldn’t notice? Good luck with that.  

Wrong rice: Avoid long-grain rice like Basmati and if possible try to get your hands on bomba, bahía or sénia rice, the best kinds for paella.

What ingredients should an authentic Spanish paella include?

According to Wikipaella, the self-proclaimed online “paella police”, 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 has 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 as we saw above there are some definite no-nos. 

And remember: nobody expects the Valencian Paella Inquisition!

READ MORE: Paella – Six reasons you have probably been doing it wrong