HOW TO EAT PAELLA TUTORIAL
The article “Manual for eating directly from the paella” was first published in El Mundo newspaper on March 31, 2012, and it immediately went viral. Nearly 8 years later and after it was left to stand like all good paella recipes suggest, this manual has been brought back to life. Its author and one of Wikipaella ́s founders, Paco Alonso, now sets in writing what was originally a generally understood form of etiquette among all members partaking of a paella.
First and foremost, when Valencians gather together to eat a paella, it can and should be eaten directly from the pan or iron dish with
a spoon. More specifically, a flat spoon rather than a deep soup spoon. There are people who pontificate with vehemence that a paella must be eaten with a wooden spoon, thereby magnifying the importance of the material rather than the utensil itself. This is how people used to eat paellas when each person had his or her own personalized and non-transferable spoon. Boxwood spoon in hand, they would arrive at the event for another meal that would keep their spoon well-polished with its daily use. There are now traditional-style restaurants that put brand new enormous wooden spoons with their rough and uncomfortable texture, wrapped in cellophane, at the place setting tobeusedduringthemeal. Savethemasa souveniranduseametalspoon. Eatingpaella with a fork in Valencia will make you look ridiculous, by the way.
In terms of serving the paella, our common sense tells us to serve the paella individually on plates for children and for any guests who have never eaten from the paella pan before since it may make them feel uncomfortable. To the unsuspecting eye, we may look like Bedouin nomads eating cous cous under our haima tent. Actually, our culture has very similar traditions. But going back to the topic of serving paella, whoever serves it must always start from the center so that the invisible lines dividing the remaining portions are neither disrupted nor blurred. Each person is to only eat the part that is directly in front of him/her. It is a simple but wise ritual that actually works to keep the rice from cooling off too quickly.
If you decide to eat directly from the paella, you must know that:
1.- The paella is like a round box of mini portions of soft cheese. You eat from the outer edge and move towards the center in an angle, all the while meticulously avoiding the portion belonging to the person next to you. You should probably dig a “cavallonet” (trench) first to maintain the boundary, and sustain the unsurpassable wall as long as possible.
2.- The guests should be distributed around the paella at an equal and accessible distance from the pan.
3.- It is not a good idea to place two people with big appetites next to each other. They should be distributed evenly among the guests with smaller appetites.
4.- The most appropriate utensil for eating paella is a spoon. Using a fork is just tacky.
5.- If the guests would like to squeeze a few drops of lemon onto their portion, that is acceptable, but they must first ask for approval from their neighbor and try to not spray lemon on the other sections. Historically, lemon was used for removing grease from your fingers or for cleaning the grime off of things.
6.- You may begin to eat once the rice has been left standing for a certain amount of time. When the patriarch or the social leader formally announces: “Vinga que es gela l’arròs” (Let ́s start, the rice is getting cold!”), the event begins.
7.- If the paella is tasty, the cook will be praised continually throughout the meal every two spoonfuls. Some of the common phrases that may be used are: “Cada gra d’arròs val vint duros” (Each grain is worth 60 cents), “T’ha eixit ben senceret l’arròs” (You cooked the rice just right), “Cague en la mare que et va parir, això està rebó” (We praise your mother for teaching you how to cook paella so exquisitely). Popular sayings like these abound during the meal.
8.- The larger pieces, vegetables and pieces of meat that the guest does not want can be delicately placed in the center of the paella for others to take if they wish to eat them.
9.- However, if you take a piece of meat out of the dish, you may under no circumstances put it back .
10.- If someone invades another person ́s portion, the first offense might be met with a gesture of disapproval accompanied by the characteristic Valencian “Xé!” (“Hey!”) followed by “fes el favor!” (“Please!”)
If it happens again, the offender may be more forcefully warned with the following statement. “Eres poc fill de puta” (You ́re quite a scoundrel). The Valencian dialect is full of these seemingly insulting comments that are actually quite cordial among friends who share the Valencian sense of humor.
11.- When the diner abandons ship, he/she can either rest the spoon on the side of the pan or announce: “Estic fart, ja no puc més” (I ́ve had enough! I can’t eat another bite.) From this moment on, his/her portion can be invaded by the neighbors, always politely, by knocking down the trench walls and crossing the succulent frontier, while careful to not destroy everything along the way.
12.- It is in very poor taste to rotate the paella pan in order to reach the areas with more rice. The only one who could do this was Joan Monleón with his spinning Paella Wheel on the Valencian game show.
13.- If the paella is unstable and moves around and a volunteer offers to hold the handle to keep it still, you must keep that guest ́s drink full during the entire meal.
14.- When the spoon reaches the bottom of the metal pan and the glorious “Socarraet” appears, you must remain calm while you distribute this black gold equally among the guests so as not to end up “com el ball de Torrent” (a traditional Valencian dance that culminated in absolute chaos).
15.- The meal finally ends when the guests either step away from the plate or when there is nothing left in the pan, the undisputable sign of a good paella.
Note: The perfect accompaniment to a good paella is the Valencian salad whose attack protocol follows similar guidelines. For dessert, we recommend either melon or watermelon during the summer months, and oranges during the rest of the year.