When in Valencia you have do paella, the city’s emblematic dish that many foreigners think of as the national dish of Spain. In truth it’s a peasant dish born in the fields of Valencia to feed the farm workers. As such, traditional Valenciana paella contains no seafood but rather the proteins and vegetables ubiquitous to the region – chicken, rabbit, snails, and broad beans.
Although I love paella in all the myriad variations that have developed over the years, especially the seafood combinations, I had never actually tried the original. That is until tonight.
The casual restaurant, decorated in dark wood and bright colors, is divided into several small dining rooms. Unfortunately I had made reservations late, on Friday for a busy Saturday night, and we were therefore placed in the small dining area in the front of the restaurant next to the bar. Not the most romantic or atmospheric spot. However, once the food and wine started to arrive the less than desirable location was forgotten.
If you don’t order your paella in advance, and I suggest that you don’t, it takes a minimum of 35 minutes to prepare, a nice amount of time to enjoy a starter over a glass of wine. The chipirones, small squid, sautéed with garlic stems and fava beans and served in squid in sauce. An unbeatable combination of flavors – sweet squid, garlic, the bitterness of the fava beans married with the luscious salty squid ink. I could go home completely happy after just this one dish!
The paella, however, is the star of the show, served in a well-worn traditional shallow pan placed in the center of the table. Unlike many paella served in the US, for example, traditional paellas are cooked in a thin layer not more than a few grains of rice thick. This produces more of a crust, those crunchy grains on the bottom of the pan, prized by locals.
The complex depth of flavors intermingled with the earthiness of the beans and tender chicken and rabbit were everything I had hoped they would be. My only disappointment was the absence of snails. The owner explained that they don’t use snails anymore since most customers don’t like them. I don’t know if this is generally the case in Valencia or a particular quirk of this restaurant. Coming from France where snails are commonly found on menus, I find this surprising.
If you are looking for the full traditional protein package you may have to look elsewhere, but for a great traditional paella for a reasonable price, 10€ per person, try Canela. Be sure to make advanced reservations for a good table.