What is one of the best parts of travel? The food! Touring the markets, eating the street food, reading menus as I stroll throughout cities and villages always gives me a thrill but it is the art of learning to make a local dish that truly makes my heart swell! It’s through food that I have come to better understand, appreciate and value other cultures and through cooking classes while abroad that has allowed me to share my love of travel with those back home.
So, when asked by a friend to attend an AirBNB cooking lesson in Barcelona, Spain I jumped at the idea! Not only would we learn to make a Paella – which is the national dish of Catalonia – but also enjoy the spoiled fruit and wine mix called Sangria whilst making and eventually taking a flame torch to chilled cream.
Watch the three-minute video below to see what the experience was like and get your wooden spoon ready!
What is Paella?
Like many foods, we find the most scrumptious, paella began as peasant food cooked over an open flame. In essence, this Valencian rice-based dish is a combination of a variety of vegetables, meat or fish, seasoned with saffron, and simmered for a few hours.
Paella, in my opinion, is the perfect marriage between Romans of Spain and the Arabs. Old stories say the dish originated in the rice-growing region of Valencia by the Moores and the servants of the kings created rice dishes by mixing left-overs from banquets and reheating. The dish then spread to the country-side where people would use quick-burning twigs and scrubs to cook the dish which led to the evolution of the shallow pan now associated with the dish.
The Paella Pan
The word Paella refers to the pan the dish is cooked in and without the pan, you can’t make a true paella. The Paella pan is characterized by being round with a flat bottom and a varies from 12 inches to several feet; however, it is always the same depth. Every paella pan is just a few knuckles deep so that the all the rice has maximum exposure to the bottom of the pan for softening and flavor absorption.
The base of the dish is rice and in Spain, there are two types to choose from for maximum absorption of the stock and spice flavors. Typically a small rounded grain called Bomba is the first choice.
Originally the dish was made with rabbit, but Paella is all about variety and there can be one type used, a blend or no meat at all. The most common choices are rabbit, chicken, snails, chorizo, shrimp, mussels, clams and crab.
The vegetables included vary based on region, season and who the chef is. The most popular veggies are onions and garlic, artichoke, and will see fresh peas, red pepper or beans.
As for seasoning, the number one choice is saffron which gives the dish a smoky, earthy flavor even if not prepared over a fire and rich color. Salt, garlic, and paprika are often used as well.
How to Eat it?
What was most shocking about this dish for me was the way it’s traditionally eaten. If out to dinner they are always sold for a minimum of two and if at an event, served family style where everyone brings their own wooden spoon and eats directly from the Paella. Each guest starts at the perimeter of the pan and works their way in.
Book a Sleep or Experience with AirBNB
The photo above was the inner courtyard entrance to my AirBnB stay in Barcelona which for an entire apartment was about $150 per night! AirBnB has now extended beyond just rentals and has partnered with locals who have created amazing cultural experiences such as the Paella Class to give you, even more, local exposure.
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