Every country has its signature dishes, culinary treats for which it is famous all around the world. When you think of Italy, for example, you think of pizza and pasta. When you think of Belgium, fries and chocolate come to mind. And no one can think of India without drooling over a good curry. Yes, they might be a bit cliché but that’s simply how the human mind works. We tend to go for the simplest connections, which stick around for ages. So when you think of Spain, you’ll most probably think about paella.
But just like with any specialty dish, there are a lot of possible variations. Not all are made equal, clearly. When a dish is made over and over again, there are often quite a bit of details that get lost in the process. Those bastardized versions aren’t always bad, to be clear. Sometimes, they’re even better than the original. But there always has to be one base version, one recipe which everyone keeps in the back of their mind for reference.
Paella or Arroz con cosas?
The Universidad Católica de Valencia has now carried out a study to find out which are the one and only ‘original’ paella ingredients. In order to do so, they asked 400 chefs from 266 Valencian villages for their opinion. The results of the study were presented under the title ‘A nightmare glocal discussion: what are the ingredients of paella valenciana?’ and published in the International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science. And even the most fervent paella lovers might be surprised by the results.
According to the local chefs, only ten ingredients should be allowed in a paella: rice, water, olive oil, salt, saffron (or food colouring), tomato, flat green beans, lima beans, chicken and rabbit. That means no fish, no seafood, no other additions. Some ingredients, however, were the object of discussion. 62% of the chefs thought paprika was acceptable, 52% thought rosemary should be added to the list and 45% would consider adding artichokes when in season.
As soon as one’s experimenting too much with other additions, Valencians tend to call this dish ‘arroz con cosas’ or ‘rice with things’. No wonder, with all these very clear opinions, that the paella was declared as a cultural asset by the region’s government last year. It is, according to them, “an icon of the Mediterranean diet, because of both its ingredients and its characteristics as a representation of Valencian culture”.