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What is Spanish Paella? Traditions and Customs
older couple eating paella outdoors at food stand spanish paella pan holidays

Paella, a recipe and cultural dish that means a lot to people throughout the world. However, everyone needs to start somewhere when it comes to paella. Here at Machika, we will go over exactly what is paella, its cultural origins, and the traditions and customs that surround it. By the end of this article, you will understand enough about the recipe to tackle it on your own! Making the dish is not as difficult as you would think, and knowing more about its history can help you and your family appreciate it a bit more. The answer to the question of “what is paella” is simple when only discussing the parts of the dish. It is a single pan Spanish dish that uses a special pan made for paella recipes. The modern recipe is known for originating in Spain.

 However, it is most like much older and present in different cultures in various forms. The pan is part of the traditions and customs of paella. The dish uses special ingredients like saffron, which you would not find in most other recipes because it is expensive and something difficult to get. Not everyone can simply go to their neighborhood store and buy some saffron. Here are some of the traditions and customs of paella that can help you get started making your own.

Paella Traditions

Tradition is important for recipes throughout history and the world. Everything originates from somewhere, and that origin shapes things throughout history. For example, ever wonder why paella is a single pan dish? After all, many western recipes use multiple pots and pans to make a dish. If you are making many other recipes, you will typically include side dishes or other parts separate from the main dish.

You would not cook a full turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy all in the same dish. Well, the reason a single pan is used is because of historical necessity. Hundreds of years ago, simple things we take for granted, like having plenty of cookwares, were not common. People did not have cupboards full of expensive dishes, stainless steel silverware, or even stove ovens with multiple burners allowing them to cook different parts of a dish separately. Instead, many people had to settle for a single pan and fire source to cook their meals.

Single Pan Dish

A tradition of cooking paella relies on the primary tool, the paella pan. This specialized pan is thin and often made of durable but highly conduction carbon steel. The material allows heat to transfer quickly through the pan and evenly cook your food. It also means that the pan cools down quickly when the heat is turned off. Your paella is less likely to burn with a good paella pan as paella recipes and cooking instructions often expect the right pan to be used.

Traditional Paella Recipes

enameled paella pan with fresh seafood paella being served in personal pan

Another tradition of paella are the recipes. Unlike other dishes where you have quite a lot of choice in preference, there are traditional recipes and ingredients used in paella that make it unique. Without these recipes, there would be little difference between paella and other single dish rice recipes. Some of the key ingredients in traditional paella include bomba rice (a type of rice that is common in Valencia, Spain) and saffron. They both contribute in invaluable ways to making paella taste like paella. The rice is necessary to get the right texture and you need the saffron to ensure the dish gets taste and looks right. Saffron provides color and a unique flavor that you will not get with any other spice. Unlike other recipes where you can substitute certain ingredients, you really cannot substitute the unique taste. When it comes to traditional recipes, you will typically deal with three types of paella recipes:

  • Seafood Paella
  • Chicken Chorizo Paella
  • Traditional Spanish Paella

These three recipes are vital for traditions of paella. Seafood paella recipes were developed directly because of how much seafood was widely available in Spain. The area of Valencia has a massive fishing economy and is known for many seafood dishes. It only makes sense that seafood paella would be one of the most popular recipes. In fact, many people consider the seafood variety to be the default one when speaking on the dish.

What is in Traditional Seafood Paella?

Traditional seafood paella is one of the most common types you will see being served. It has many ingredients that you may not find in other paellas, as it focuses solely on seafood like shellfish. Most seafood paellas do not use fish like tuna but instead other sea animals like octopus, clams, and mussels. If you are a seafood lover, then you cannot go wrong with this traditional recipe. Not only is it delicious, but it is simple to cook and does not take up the entire day. You can check out our Machika seafood paella recipe here.

What is in Chicken Chorizo Paella?

The great thing about many paella recipes is that it is easy to adjust them depending on what you are cooking. With chicken chorizo, all you really need to do is remove all the seafood ingredients in a seafood paella and replace them. Chicken chorizo recipes will ask for the same rice, saffron, and other ingredients that are in many paellas.

What is in Traditional Spanish Paella?

While seafood paella is often considered the modern-day default paella recipe, it is not actually the oldest or the most traditional. In fact, there is a recipe that is much older than seafood paella! This is simply known as traditional Spanish paella. This recipe uses many ingredients, particularly meats, that are no longer typical. For example, rabbit meat is frequently required in early traditional paella recipes. Snails and duck are also common.

Paella Customs

Eating and serving paella also has many customs different from other foods. It is not uncommon to eat paella straight out of the pan. If you are sharing it with others, servers will sometimes use smaller personal paella pans as serving dish. However, serving it in on a regular plate is typically nowadays. Paella is often served with slices of lemon that are laid around in a circular pattern in the pan. There are not many strict customs besides sticking to traditional cooking instructions and using a paella pan.

Buy an Authentic Paella Pan Today

If you are looking to get yourself a new paella pan and cook your own paella recipes, then we have the perfect items for you. Our polished carbon steel paella pans are the real deal. Made in Valencia, Spain, you are getting an authentic paella pan at Machika.com. We also offer enameled paella pans if you want a non-stick pan instead.

Machika writer blog excerpt Maria Perez

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