Five things you probably didn’t know about Spanish paella

As today is world paella day, we’ve put together some surprising facts about Spanish paellas that you probably didn’t know before.  

Five things you probably didn't know about Spanish paella
World Paella Day September 20th. Photo: malubeng / Pixabay

The original paellas were not made with seafood

While paella de marisco (seafood paellas) is probably the most popular type of paella today, and paellas have become synonymous with seaside dining, the original paellas were not made with seafood at all. In fact, the original paellas were made by rice farmers who worked in the fields, inland, not along the coast. They would make their paellas with ingredients they could get their hands on close by. Therefore, the original paellas were probably more similar to the traditional Valencian paella, which contains rabbit, chicken, snails, green beans and garrofón, (similar to butter beans).

The original paellas were not made with seafood. Photo: Luis Fernando Talavera / Pixabay

The word ‘paella’ did not appear anywhere until around 1900

Historians differ on the exact origins of paella, however, it was the Moors who brought rice over to Spain when they conquered it around 711AD. During their rule, many types of rice dishes were made. Despite this, food historians claim first recipes showing how to cook paella-like rice dishes only appeared between 1750 and 1800, and the word ‘paella’ wasn’t seen anywhere until around 1900.

The word paella did not appear until 1900. Sandra Wei / Unsplash

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

Paella got its name from the pan it is cooked in

There are several theories as to how paella got its name, but most agree that it’s named after the pan it’s cooked in, called a paellera. It’s a wide flat pan with two handles, that can be big or small, but is always shallow – around one thumb deep. The pans also have small dimples in the bottom, which are said to trap small amounts of liquid and help the paella to cook evenly. Traditionally, paella is supposed to be eaten straight out of the pan with a wooden spoon.

Paellas are named after the pans they are cooked in. Photo: jamstraightuk / Pixabay

The best paellas are cooked over open fires

Most Spanish chefs will agree that the best paellas are still made over open fires like they used to be in the past. This means that the paellas will also get a slightly smoky flavour, because of the burnt wood (in Valencia they say orange wood is the best). The high heat from an open fire also helps to create the socarrat – the crispy, almost caramelized layer of rice right at the bottom of the pan. There are still some restaurants in Valencia that make paellas over open fires the way they did in the past, such as Casa Carmela.

Paellas are best cooked over an open fire. Photo: EstudioWebDoce / Pixabay

The biggest paella fed 110,000 people

According to Guinness World Records, the official world record for largest paella was in Madrid back in 2001. It was created by a total of 80 chefs and fed 110,000 people. The pan was 21 metres in diameter and 26cm deep.

The biggest paella ever fed 110,000 people. Photo: Fernando Espí / Pixabay

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Does Spain have a dog poo problem?

Many foreigners in Spain complain that the streets are full of dog faeces, but is that actually true and what, if anything, is being done to address it?

Does Spain have a dog poo problem?

Spain is a nation of dog lovers.

According to the country’s National Institute of Statistics (INE), 40 percent of Spanish households have a dog.

In fact, believe it or not, the Spanish have more dogs than they do children.

While there are a little over 6 million children under the age of 14 in Spain, there are over 7 million registered dogs in the country. 

But one bugbear of many foreigners in Spain is that there’s often a lot of dog mess in the streets, squares and parks.

The latest estimates suggest it’s as much as 675,000 tonnes of doodoo that has to be cleaned up every year in Spain.

Many dog owners in Spain carry around a bottle of water mixed with detergent or vinegar to clean up their dog’s urine and small plastic bags to pick up number twos.

And yet, many owners seem to either turn a blind eye to their pooches’ poo or somehow miss that their pets have just pooed, judging by the frequency with which dog sh*t smears Spanish pavements. 

So how true is it that Spain has a dog poo problem? Is there actually more dog mess in Spain than in other countries, and if not, why does it seem that way?

One contextual factor worth considering when understanding the quantity of caca in Spain’s calles is how Spaniards themselves actually live.

When one remembers that Spaniards mostly live in apartments without their own gardens, it becomes less surprising that it feels as though there’s a lot of dog mess in the streets. Whereas around 87 percent of households in Britain have a garden, the number in Spain is below 30 percent.

Simply put, a nation of dog lovers without gardens could mean more mess in the streets. 

Whereas Britons often just let their dogs out into their garden to do their business, or when they can’t be bothered to take them for a walk even, Spaniards have to take them out into the street, unless they’re okay with their pooches soiling their homes. 

There aren’t many dog-friendly beaches in Spain, and the fact that on those that do exist, some owners don’t clean up their dogs’ mess, doesn’t strengthen the case for more ‘playas para perros‘ to be added. (Photo by JOSE JORDAN / STR / AFP)

Doggy dirt left in the streets is most certainly not a Spain-specific problem either, but rather an urban one found around the world.

In recent years, there have been complaints about the sheer abundance of canine faecal matter left in public spaces in Paris, Naples, Rome, Jerusalem, Glasgow, Toronto, London, San Francisco and so on.

READ ALSO: Why do some Spanish homes have bottles of water outside their door?

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a worldwide study to shed light on which cities and countries have the biggest ‘poo-blem’, with the available investigations mainly centred on individual nations, such as this one by Protect my Paws in the US and UK

And while it may be more noticeable in Spain than in some countries, it doesn’t mean the Spanish are doing nothing about it.

In fact, Barcelona has been named the third best city in Europe for dealing with the problem, according to a study by pet brand

Although Barcelona’s score of 53/80 was significantly lower than many British cities (Newcastle scored 68/80 and Manchester 66/80, for example) its hefty fines of 1,500 for dog owners caught not cleaning up after their canine friends might be a reason. 

And some parts of Spain take it even more seriously than that.

In many Spanish regions doggy databases have been created to catch the culprits. Over 35 Spanish municipalities require dog owners to register their pets’ saliva or blood sample on a genetic database so they can be traced and fined, if necessary. 

In Madrid, you are twice as likely to come across someone walking a dog than with a baby’s stroller. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

This DNA trick started earlier in Spain than in many other countries; the town of Brunete outside of Madrid kicked off the trend in 2013 by mailing the ‘forgotten’ poo to neglectful owners’ addresses. Some municipalities have also hired detectives to catch wrongdoers.

So it’s not as if dog poo doesn’t bother Spaniards, with a 2021 survey by consumer watchdog OCU finding that it’s the type of dirt or litter found in the streets than bothers most people.

READ ALSO: Clean or dirty? How does your city rank on Spain’s cleanliness scale? 

It’s therefore not a part of Spanish culture not to clean up after dogs, but rather a combination of Spain’s propensity for outdoor and urban living, the sheer number of dogs, and of course the lack of civic duty on the part of a select few. Every country has them. 

On a final note, not all dog owners in Spain who don’t clean up after their pooches can be blamed for doing it deliberately, but it’s certainly true that looking at one’s phone rather than interacting with your dog, or walking with your dog off the leash (also illegal except for in designated areas) isn’t going to help you spot when your pooch has done its business.

Article by Conor Faulkner and Alex Dunham