Where to find the best paella in Spain

Image by zsenya via Flickr

Did you know that Paella and other rice dishes used to be considered a poor man’s food? Since rice was widely available and relatively cheap, farmers and peasants took what litte food and rice they had, then  threw everything they had in the pot or “paella” – sometimes even snails! Although Spain’s most famous dish originated in its modern form in the mid-19th century near on the east coast of Spain, but did you know that given its less-than-fortunate beginnings, you’ll rarely find a true and traditional paella on the menu at gourmet restaurants?

“Paella is a rather “vulgar” dish”, says Pure Adventures guide Bo Lohmann, referring to its history. “All the fancy restaurants like the ones we include in our Spain Gastronomic Cycling Tour wouldn’t be specialized in rice dishes, although they may have it on the card,” Lohmann adds. “They want to offer more elaborate and innovative creations,” Lohmann says.

“That said, it’s not easy to cook a good paella – I tried it a few times and the result was horrible! It also takes quite a long time,” laughs Lohmann.

Lohmann points out that the typical Paella comes from Valencia and has conquered other Spanish region from there as well as abroad. There are many other popular rice dishes from other Spanish regions including Girona. Valencia is a vast rice growing area as is the area around Seville in Andalucia. In Catalonia the Ebro delta is the biggest production place and in Girona it’s the Pals marshlands and the Aigumolls a bit north. The Girona rice is different because of lower temperatures in summer and different soil.

“Customers on our self guided bike tours in Spain are riding through the rice fields near Pals and can visit a rice mill from the XVth century still producing rice,” Lohmann says.

“You can find the typical Paella from Valencia everywhere, especially in areas with many tourists. But since we are experts it may be worth pointing out some regional specialties in Girona,” says Lohmann. Here are his favorite variations:

Arros Mar i Muntanya
Like the rest of the Girona cuisine this reflects influences from both Sea and Mountain thus ingredients like fish, seafood, meat, sausage, mushrooms etc in the same paella

Arros caldos
A soupy paella (my favorite actually. I find many “normal” paellas too dry)

Arros negre
Black rice, cooked with squid ink. Very tasty. I always recommend customers to try it at least once!

The Best Paella Restaurants in Spain

On every self guided cycling tour in Spain, we provide travelers with dining suggestions. If you would like to try a traditional paella, Lohmann suggests reserving a table at one of these restaurants.