Paella (pronounced pie-ay-ya) is easily one of the most popular Spanish dishes in the world. Readily available throughout the country, it is an essential facet of Spanish cuisine but how much do you really know about this flavorsome dish?
Here are 20 facts about paella that will make you hungry!
1. Different regions in Spain have different paellas
One of the most common facts about paella is that there are many different versions of the dish in Spain.
While the basic ingredients remain similar (more on that later), each region in Spain has its own version of paella. For example, the most common type of paella in Andalusia is paella de marisco, seafood paella, while Galicia, an autonomous region in the northwest of Spain, is famous for black rice paella (dyed black with squid ink).
2. Paella most likely originated in Valencia
That being said, one of the most widely-accepted facts about paella is that the original recipe came from Valencia.
While there is no definite answer to where specifically in Valencia paella is from, many people believe that the dish was first eaten by fishermen in small fishing villages along the shores of Lake Albufera.
Fun fact: In Valencia or in Valencian restaurants throughout Spain, paella is often served with a quartered slice of lemon. That’s because the original Valencian paella recipes used plenty of seafood, so the locals would also top their paella with freshly-squeezed lemon juice.
3. In fact, Paella is believed to be an old Valencian word
To further consolidate Valencia as the birthplace of paella, the very name of the dish is an old Valencian word!
Long before Spain communicated in a universal form of Spanish, different regions spoke their own versions of the language. Some of these Spanish dialects, such as Catalan, still exist today.
In the case of paella, most locals believe that it is an old Valencian word that was derived from the Latin word, patella, which means pan.
4. Paella is actually the name of the pan, not the dish!
If you went back in time and requested a paella, most likely you would be given a pan instead of the dish we all know and love today.
As I said, paella is actually the name of the pan that this famous dish is cooked in. It is shallow and flat and often measures a minimum of 8.5 inches in diameter. That’s because paella (the dish) is a meal that is made for sharing, so a large pan is needed to cook it.
Over time, local media started calling the dish paella after the name of the pan because it was one of the few and only meals that were prepared using that particular utensil.
5. The best way to cook paella is by using an open fire
Traditionally, the best paella is cooked over an open fire or in a paellero (built-in barbecue).
One of the major advantages of cooking paella like this is that the wood smoke gives the dish a pleasant smoky aroma. While most modern restaurants these days no longer use this method, you can still find traditionally-cooked paella in Valencia.
If you visit during the festival of Las Fallas (held annually in March), you’ll find many locals cooking this beloved dish in the traditional way.
6. You’re supposed to eat paella straight out of the pan
Since the pan that’s used to cook paella is an instrumental (pardon the pun) part of the dish, it makes perfect sense to serve it in the same way.
While some restaurants, especially those that cater to tourists, will serve you individual plates, the traditional way to eat paella is straight out of the giant pan in which it was cooked!
The pan is often placed in the center of the table where everyone can dig in at the same time.
7. Paella also has an alternate, romantic backstory
Before that though, there is another theory that locals float around whenever the question “where is paella” pops up. This particular theory is quite romantic and one of the lesser-known paella facts you’ll ever hear about.
It is said that a long time ago in Valencia, a young man first prepared this dish for his fiancee, and presented the dish as “para ella” (meaning for her). Over time, perhaps due to someone mishearing the words, the name of the dish evolved into paella!
While this origin story of paella is more fictitious than fact, there appears to be some grain of truth in this. That’s because while most women traditionally still do the cooking in Spain, paella is most often prepared by men, just like in the story!
8. Paella first appeared at international fairs in the 19th century!
Even though paella has been around for a very long time, the version that many of us know today only appeared around the 19th century. Or rather, it was during that time when the world first noted its existence.
Supposedly, when international fairs, conferences, and diplomatic meetings became more common in the 19th century, the Spaniards would serve paella to their guests. And that is when the dish started to rise to fame. However, at that time, most people considered it a regional dish from Valencia, rather than Spain’s national dish.
9. At one point, paella was only eaten by peasants
This piece of paella history will probably catch most people off guard. Given how popular paella is these days, many would not have expected that the dish was once cooked and eaten only by the peasants.
That’s because the concept of paella was simply to throw in any ingredients on hand, be it leftover meat, vegetables, and other common spices, to create a filling meal. In fact, paella is one of the easiest traditional Spanish dishes to make, provided you have the proper pan!
10. Traditional paella has exactly 10 ingredients!
Earlier, we mentioned that while paella recipes may differ depending on which region in Spain you’re visiting, the key ingredients remain similar. Well, supposedly, the OG recipe calls for exactly 10 ingredients!
Paella Valenciana, which is still served in many parts of Valencia today, usually contains these ingredients: rice, chicken, rabbit meat, tomatoes, green beans, garlic, saffron, olive oil, paprika, and salt.
For those who’d prefer to avoid any gluten in the diet, you’ll be happy to know that, while modern paella recipes differ slightly from the traditional, the ingredients remain largely the same. This means that most paellas are gluten-free!
11. A different type of rice is used for Paella Valenciana
Most of the time when your dig into a pan of paella, you’ll realize that most chefs use bomba rice.
Bomba rice is a short-grain rice that is cultivated in the eastern parts of Spain. It is often used as the main ingredient in paella because it is more robust and harder to overcook.
However, in Valencia, Senia rice is used because it is better at absorbing liquid, resulting in a slightly stickier dish.
12. There shouldn’t be too much rice in paella
Speaking of rice, while it IS the main ingredient in the dish, the best paella actually only contains a thin layer of rice (about 1n inch or so).
Supposedly, this measurement is to ensure that every grain of rice can be properly seasoned by the other ingredients and to maximize the flavor!
13. The bottom layer, called socarrat, is the best part!
That being said, from personal experience, it is the bottom layer of a paella pan that holds the most delicious part of the dish – the socarrat.
Socarrat is basically the slightly caramelized layer of rice at the bottom of the pan. It is similar to Korean scorched rice: Crispy, savory, and scraped off the bottom with a spoon.
This is one of those paella facts that casual tourists don’t really know about. However, if you love paella as much as I do, you’ll know that the presence of socarrat is the key difference between a good paella and an exceptional one!
14. The dish is always prepared for an even number of people
Because of the unique size of the paella pan, the dish is often prepared to contain an even number of servings.
That’s because if you were to add just one extra serving or one less, you would not achieve the optimal layer thickness of rice, thus diminishing the flavor. And let’s face it, nobody wants that!
15. Paella is usually eaten during lunch in Spain
When is paella eaten? If it were up to me, I’d say all day, every day! However, for locals in Spain, paella is mostly considered a lunchtime meal.
The main reason for this is that paella is generally considered a heavy meal, thanks to the abundance of ingredients that go into each serving. And since dinner in Spain is served extremely late (I once had dinner at 9:30 p.m. in Sevilla!), locals generally avoid paella dinners so as to not go to bed with a full stomach.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you’ll be denied a serving of paella if you try to order it for dinner!
16. In Valencia, paella is the equivalent of the U.K’s Sunday Roast
Speaking of when paella is eaten, this beloved, flavorful dish is to Valencians what a Sunday roast is to the Brits.
In the U.K., it is tradition to spend Sundays sharing a hearty meal of roasted meat and potatoes with family. Over in Valencia, whole families usually gather together during Sunday lunch to feast on delicious paella!
17. The largest paella ever made fed over 100,000 people!
Have you ever wondered how big the largest paella ever created was?
In 2001, Valencian Antonio Galbis and his team of dedicated chefs created a giant pan of paella in Madrid. How massive was it? Well, this Guinness World Record holder fed 110,000 people!
The paella contained over 6,000 kg of rice and more than 12,500 kg of meat and was prepared in a pan that measured 69 feet in diameter. Talk about paella facts that blow the mind!
18. There’s not one, but two Paella Days
Given how popular paella is, it comes as no surprise that this Spanish dish has its very own holiday.
However, one fun fact about paella you might Not know about is that instead of one Paella Day, there are actually two separate dates!
In the United States, National Spanish Paella Day is celebrated annually on 27 March. Meanwhile, Spain and the rest of the world celebrate World Paella Day on 20 November every year!
19. Paella could become a UNESCO world heritage soon
In October 2021, the local government of Valencia declared paella an Asset of Intangible Cultural Interest.
The recognition basically acknowledges paella’s significance in Valencia and Spain’s culinary culture. More importantly, this opens the way to list paella as an item of UNESCO Intangible Heritage!
While the process could take a few years, we might just see paella officially being making the list in the next few years.
20. Where to find the best paella restaurant?
Finally, arguably the most important paella fact of all: Where is the best paella in Spain?
Of course, different people will obviously have different answers to that. That said, it’s generally believed that the best paella restaurants can generally be found in Valencia.
La Pepica, found opposite Playa de la Malvarrosa Beach, is one of the most famous paella restaurants in the country. Featuring various kinds of paella, the restaurant is no stranger to serving famous guests including Ernest Hemingway and painter Joaquin Sorolla. Even King Juan Carlos is rumored to be a regular customer!
Bonus: There is a special paella emoji on your phone!
You know paella’s a big deal when there’s a special paella emoji! The first emoji was launched in 2016 and featured seafood paella.
However, after a few years, the emoji was redesigned to reflect authentic Paella Valenciana and all its traditional ingredients. Try it out! 🥘
And there you have it, 20 fun facts about paella that will surely make your tummy rumble! Ready to learn more about the world’s popular cuisine? Check out this article about sushi!