Paella. A huge rice dish; Spain’s national dish. It is usually served in a giant pan and is often made to share. It is delicious. The three most common types of paella are Valencian paella, seafood paella and mixed paella. Valencian paella usually contains chicken and rabbit, and mixed paella is usually a combination of seafood and a meat of sorts. Now my seafood allergy had knocked two options off the list – seafood paella and mixed paella. This left Valencian paella. But under no circumstances could I bring myself to eat a bunny. There went my last option. This left me in a bit of a pickle – desperate to eat paella, but often unable to eat paella. Unfortunately for my poor boyfriend, I was determined to walk from restaurant to restaurant, reading menu after menu, asking waiter after waiter, as our stomachs got hungrier and hungrier on a persistent hunt for a vegetarian paella or a chicken-only paella. They definitely existed, but were much less common than the other types [this varied in different cities – e.g. they were much more accessible in Barcelona and much less common in Valencia]. Yes ok, so I could have settled for the classic burger and chips, which was always an option. But I was in Spain and I was not going to give up that easily. Luckily, my search paid off because I did find and enjoy plenty of paellas… eventually. And they were worth the search!! Delicioso!
On a completely unrelated to dietary requirements note, I have two great paella tips that I learnt in Spain. Firstly, paella tastes MUCH better when eaten out of the pan rather than served onto a side plate. The rice gets stuck to the bottom and is crispy and full of flavour! As they say, when in Spain… Secondly, for those seeking an authentic paella, you should know that restaurants can serve one of two types of paellas – the pre-packaged type and the freshly made type. The pre-packaged paella takes much quicker to cook and you can often identify these paellas by the fact that the restaurant will have stock-standard pictures of paella on a sign outside. In contrast, the freshly made paellas can take up to 40 minutes or more to cook, are made to order, and are much, MUCH better. If you want real, authentic paella, this is the way to go. Also, as the paella is made to order, this means that if there is an ingredient that you cannot eat (e.g. rabbit), the restaurant may be able to leave it out!
Finally, the best paella I had in Spain [but remember I was limited in my options] was a chicken paella at Restaurante La Murciana on Malvarrosa beach in Valencia. Their paella is usually a chicken and rabbit paella, but they made a chicken-only one for me). One of their specialties (though I didn’t try it) is the ‘arroz negro’ – a black rice dish made with cuttlefish or squid. *** I’m waiting to brave the kitchen and try make some paella at home; nut-, seafood- and rabbit- free! ***
Luckily, my nut allergy was never a problem for me when ordering paella. I personally didn’t come across any paellas that contained nuts and generally paellas didn’t differ too much between restaurants. I am informed that the pre-packaged paellas that some restaurants serve do come with written ingredients, so the restaurant can easily check whether there are nuts inside. Alternatively, if the restaurant is making the paella fresh at the time of your ordering, they will be aware of what they are putting inside. This meant that as long as I checked with the waiter and made my severe allergy known to them, I always felt comfortable eating paellas!
Stay tuned for more posts about Spain – coming soon to An Allergian Abroad!
Until next time… disfrute de su comida!