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Photo: Rox & San

Places

Valencia – home of the paella

In Valencia, paella is a way of life. And when you sit with friends in front of a large frying pan where golden colored rice and fresh local ingredients boil over the orange glow of a fire, you’ll understand why.

The restaurant Casa Carmela in Valencia cook their paella in large pans over open fire. Photo: Rox & SanValencia stands out in Mediterranean cuisine with its preference for rice. Centuries of Moorish rule created a tradition of cultivating both rice and saffron. Together they form the basis for the region’s most famous dish and an important part of the local identity – paella.
“Every Sunday family and friends gather around a paella and spend the day cooking, eating and talking,” says Guillermo Navarro, a co-founder of the organization “Wikipaella” that promotes authentic paella and publishes a restaurant guide. 

While visitors may prefer to enjoy a paella with fresh seafood in the sunset at a restaurant by the beach, that’s not how locals do it. A real paella valenciana doesn’t contain anything that can swim and should only be eaten as a lunch. 

A Spanish lunch, that is, meaning sometime between midday and 4pm. 
“The ten ingredients we use to make paella valenciana, are oil, tomato, chicken, rabbit, green beans, butter beans, salt, water, rice and saffron,” Navarro explains.

“Mar y montaña” should never be mixed – meaning you should never combine fish from “el mar” with meat from “la montaña.”

In practice, however, Valencians are open-minded when it comes to their beloved paella.

“Each region combines the ingredients they have access to. That’s why we refer to it as the classic paella,” Navarro says.

In the 2019 edition of the international paella competition the restaurant Goya Gallery came in second place. Photo: Rox & San

Paella appears to be such an easy dish. Just rice, vegetables and meat thrown into a large frying pan, right? Well, think again. 
“It’s difficult because you have to make three things in the same pan. First a vegetable and meat stir fry, then the broth in the same utensil and finally you add the rice to cook it all together,” says Navarro who also initiated a campaign to create the world’s first paella emoji. 

The crust in the bottom of the pan, the socorrat, must be perfect, and the paella should be preferably be cooked over an open fire, a leña, which adds an extra “secret” ingredient.
 “What differentiates a good paella from an excellent one is the firewood. That unique smoky aroma provides smell, taste and color,” says Navarro, who recommends everyone to come to his hometown for a first-hand paella experience.

“And above all, for the unique pleasure of eating it directly from the pan among friends, looking at the sea.”

Here are 6 great Paella restaurants:

Casa Carmela has been serving paella for almost 100 years. Photo: Rox & San

Casa Carmela

This traditional restaurant with Spanish tiles decorating the walls is close to the beach in the seaside barrio of La Malva-Rosa. It has been serving paella for almost 100 years and tradition is the keyword here. Paella is only served for lunch (1–4pm) and the eight large pans are still cooked over an open fire. Be prepared to wait for up to 45 minutes from placing your order until your freshly cooked paella arrives, or order in advance by phone.

Casa Carmela

Carrer d'Isabel de Villena, 155, Valencia

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Telephone: +34 963 71 00 73 Open: Tuesday – Sunday, 1–4pm

Barraca de Toni Montoliu

Regarded by many, including Guillermo Navarro and Wikipaella, as one of the best, if not the best, place for paella in Valencia. In this barraca, the typical small, white-chalk houses in the fertile region of La Huerta around Valencia, Toni Montoliu offers a full paella experience. Besides cooking together with his guests, he will also guide you around the surrounding fields where all ingredients come from.Reservations are necessary. About 30 minutes north of the city center.

Barraca de Toni Montoliu

Partida de l’Ermita, 25, Valencia

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Telephone: +34 629 68 98 05. Open: Wednesday – Sunday: 2–5pm

Paella at the traditional restaurant El Racó de la paella. Photo: Rox & San

El Racó de la paella

A traditional restaurant that takes paella very seriously. Located in the Campanar neighborhood, north of the city center. Between large avenues and modern high-rises lies this calm, almost rural neighborhood, where the chef Oscar Gil lights up his firewood to make one of the best paellas in town. Also offers other traditional rice-dishes such as arroz negro, where rice is colored black by squid ink.

El Racó de la paella

Carrer de Mossèn Rausell, 17, Valencia

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Telephone: +34 963 48 82 52. Open: Tuesday – Sunday 1 – 4pm

Lavoe

In Valencia, paella is a cultural heritage and tradition, but this restaurant in the old town proves that it’s possible to combine all that with a modern touch. In this somewhat upscale restaurant, the goal is to create the perfect rice. And the rice undoubtedly plays the leading role here. Besides traditional paella valenciana, the menu is filled with local specialties combining vegetables and seafood with…yes, rice.

Lavoe

Carrer de la Creu Nova, 4, Valencia

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Telephone: +34 663 77 64 25. Open: Monday – Saturday 1.30–4.30pm

La Maritima

“Real” paella valenciana may not include seafood, but for anyone who prefers their rice with fish, mussels and prawns, this is the place to come to. Located in the “Veles e Vents” building in the Marina with its modern architecture, sea promenade and beaches, this restaurant offers a more modern, international, atmosphere than other more traditional restaurants.

Carrer del Moll de la Duana

Telephone: +34 610 91 51 41. Open; Monday – Saturday 1.30–4.30pm & 8.30–11.30pm, Sunday 1.30–4pm

Goya Gallery Restaurant is listed as Bib Gourmand in the Guide Michelin. Rox & San

Goya Gallery Restaurant

This upscale restaurant, in the city center, listed as Bib Gourmand in the Guide Michelin may not be the first place to look for a traditional paella. It is, however, a place for anyone looking to enjoy an authentic paella in a fancier environment. And in this year’s edition of the international paella competition in the village of Sueca, Goya Gallery came in second place. Large selection of paellas and other rice dishes.

Goya Gallery Restaurant

Carrer de Borriana, 3, Valencia

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Telephone: +34 963 04 18 35. Open: Tuesday – Saturday 10am–12pm, Sunday 10am–6pm

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