Having traveled to Spain several times, I've indulged in a variety of classic Spanish foods. Although tapas and churros are divine, paella is undoubtedly my favorite Spanish dish (and one of the most influential in Spanish culture, too). What is paella? It's a distinct combination of flavors such as parsley, lemon juice, garlic, paprika. The main ingredient in this classic dish is rice with saffron, which gives paella its unique yellow color. Although paella has undergone many transformations over the years, it's remained one of Spain's most popular dishes. 

History of Paella

paella, pizza, shrimp
Gloria Berguido

Paella is a dish that originated in Valencia, Spain. As one of the largest ports in the Mediterranean, Valencia is a critical rice-producing area in Spain. Back in the old days, paella was made from rice and any other ingredients that were available around the rice fields, including tomatoes, onions, snails, and beans for added texture. The earliest variations of paella were produced thanks to local ingredients and eating habits and incorporated foods from the area that were pure and clean. As time passed, and given that Valencia is a port city, seafood was introduced to the dish and it evolved into the paella that we know and love today.

#SpoonTip: Check out this traditional paella recipe. Jumbo shrimp, chicken thighs, chorizo sausage, prosciutto, and mussels add a unique texture to this dish. Paired with crispy bread, a light salad, and a delicate Spanish wine, this paella recipe is sure to please everyone.

How Paella Got Its Name

paella, seafood, shrimp, rice
Nicolette Contella

The term "paella," or really, "la paella," refers to the pan that this meal is cooked in. Like many dated naming stories, there are myths about the origins of this name. One legend says that the dish was cooked by a lover for his fiancée and that the word is actually a play on the words para ella, meaning for her in Spanish. Another tale suggests that the word comes from the Arabic word "Baqiyah," which means "leftovers," because of its preparation in such a ginormous dish. While we might never know the true roots of this word, I sure am glad that someone had the idea and tossed these ingredients together because the dish is un tesoro!

Paella is a dish that brings people together partly because of the way it is served in very large portions and partly because of its rich cultural history and significance. Families not only convene in restaurants to eat paella, but several generations also gather to enjoy this meal on weekends and in vacation houses in the mountains and beaches throughout Spain. From fun family traditions to paella competitions, it's clear that this dish can serve as the centerpiece for any and all delicious social occasions.