there is a great place for paella on the island where you drive down a dusty and rough road one lane only in the countryside and there under a grove of trees by the sea is a place to get authentic paella…for a reasonable price and lay back and enjoy a beer. There is a stage for later and usually a salsa or reggae band plays.
This has always been my theory. Some of the best places are off the beaten track,stuck in remote places,only locals know about them. This has mostly held true.
All my life i have been in search of the perfect paella ever since i first had it on this island over 40 years ago in 1973 when i spent 7 dollars for a pan of paella for two.That is 3.50 each by the way,for sure an extravagance in the wild hippie years when money was as scarce as hens teeth and regarded as a nuisance rather than a necessity.
Once a week we would hike 6,7 miles to Fonda Pepe bar in San Fernando ,from our remote beach living quarters where we would live a bare existence on cans of sardines,cheese and bread to sup like kings on yellow infused saffron rice and fresh seafood and tender morsels of lamb and chicken.
This then became the standard by which i would judge all paellas henceforth.
40 years i have wandered around the world and i would always venture to try the paella in most places that seemed appropriate.For 40 years i have been largely disappointed after dish after dish of paella left me feeling wanting.
The dishes were always stingy of seafood or the freshness was in doubt or the meats were dried or the proportion of rice to saffron was amiss.In fact i had given up and even doubted my own memory of the perfect paella.
Until of course today that is.
A friend on the island,Clara ,an herbalist ,writer and natural foods cook had mentioned Pelayo when i inquired about paella .
” This is a place for the locals and you must go on Sunday .It is down a dirt road and is a hippie place very fantastic by the sea ” she confided mysteriously in her sensual Italian accent.
I began to make discreet inquiries and a sense of where to go began to form. I sensed an adventure and my favorite ..a culinary adventure at that !
IN SEARCH OF THE WILD PAELLA part two : a history
Paella is an ancient dish that has it’s origins from two cultures,that of the Romans and the Arabs.From the Sanskrit comes the word Pa which means utensil or pitcher and this formed the word Paella which came to mean pan .Much later in the 18th c did the word come to mean the dish.The Romans brought irrigation and utensils and the Arabs brought rice .Rice grew around Valencia in Spain and the common dish became what is now paella .Then it was snails and rabbit and rice which was common and later it morphed to include seafood because Valencia was coastal and different combinations emerged of mixed meat and seafood combined .Spices were an essential addition to paella and saffron was the crowning effect with it’s golden hue making the dish flavorful as well as ascetically pleasing to look at.Garlic is a must as well as smoked paprika.
Onions and garlic are a must, and very often you will see fresh peas or beans as a garnish.
Artichoke quarters and red bell peppers are often used.
Because in Spain there was a lack of dry slow burning wood because Spain does not have a lot of forests green wood had to be used which would give off a very hot heat thus Spain developed the art of frying. For this a large pan was made that could be anywhere from the size of a record album to several feet.
A flat pan which was good for being over a hot fire was created and would always measure from the knuckle of the thumb in depth in order to keep the rice have maximum contact with the bottom of the pan.
A friend in Spain once confided to me that the only way to really experience paella is cooked over an outside fire preferably with wood from pine trees because this gives it a aromatic flavor.A paella cooked indoors on a stove just doesn’t compare.I suspect he is correct
.IN SEARCH OF THE WILD PAELLA part three
I don’t need precise directions usually when i am on an adventure and time is not of importance.I prefer vague directions and thus i throw my karma to the wind and see where i land. I have an innate feeling that where i land is where i am supposed to be and this has served me well so far. Today is no different as i set out to look for the best supposedly paella on the island.
Will i be misled again and forced to suffer a mediocre paella.I was game enough to take a chance sensing an adventure whichever way it played out.
All i knew was that at the Tortuga restaurant i turn in towards the coast . So i did finding myself on a dirt road which i took over fields of wheat once brought to the island by the Romans. Stone walls divided the fields which were originally built by the Moors in the 9th c.
Everywhere here is history and most don’t know it but i have an insatiable thirst for knowledge and legends.
These roads seem familiar i thought to myself as clouds of dust billowed in front of the car caking it with a veneer of golden dust which is unavoidable here on the island.
Signs unprofessionally done pointed the way past curves and turns .
I spied the signs out of the corner of my eye because they remained obscure and haphazardly placed.
A road took us past a field of goats gamboling in the dry grass .Something about this place yet i can’t put my finger on it.We drive on dirt roads that are some of the worst i have seen . Not the worst because the road i am living on is the worst. These are second worst and presently we are on a goat track on a narrow rut coming into a forest of pine trees.I am dubious but i spy a sign saying Palayo with an arrow.
We forge on and there it is like a Robin Hood encampment nestled in a glen.Ramshackle buildings haphazardly placed of corrugated tin are thrown in a pickup straw fashion and cars are parked wherever there is space .One shed houses a huge fire being stoked by great muscled guys seating furiously from the heat and there on top of the fire is a large pan ,huge filled with the golden paella and shrimp and meats and seafood.Eureka!!!!
Tables everywhere filled with eager faces waiting for the paella.There is an excitement in the air and a festival atmosphere as people quaff beer and wine with abandon.At the edge of the place is the blue of the sea and i look out an denotive the rough rocks and the gathered algae on the beach and the seaweed and realize this was where i used to live on the beach back then in 1973 and that is why the topography looked familiar.
With a roar we are let to be known that the paella is ready and quickly servers spring into action scooping out mounds of the ambrosia into heaping piles on plates .I am starved and i dig in and i realize that this is the paella i remembered from so long ago.
My memory did not fail me after all.I had finally found the wild paella at last after 40 years.
Also the paella was cheap compared to the other restaurants on the island..only 14 euros.Every sunday they have alive latin band so you can dance and eat paella !!!! My kind of place.