I remember introducing Paella to Fanfan when a Spanish restaurant opened next to us in Bangkok (Tapas Big Mama). Since then Fanfan had been determined to track paella to its origins in Spain (it wasn’t the sangria talking) and has become a bit obsessed with finding the best paella in Spain. Admittedly, this is something she does with every food she loves. Only this one brings us to Spain where we have been following data gathered by Spain-Holiday sharing the best-ranked and reviewed Paella restaurants in every city of Spain.
What is Paella?
Paella is a Spanish saffron-infused rice-based dish cooked with ingredients including chicken, rabbit, snails, and vegetables. Traditionally at least, and it is best known as “Paella Valenciana” from its origins in Valencia. But there aremany variations from regions throughout Spain including probably the better known, at least globally, “Paella de Marisco” cooked with a medley of seafood such as shrimp, mussels, and squid.
Regional Variations of Paella
Paella does vary between regions, mostly to reflect the unique ingredients in different regions of Spain, from the coastal areas with “paella de mar i muntanya” with seafood to the land ingredients like chicken and sausage. Then there is my preferred “paella mixta” bringing a blend of both seafood and meat and, Chorizo, please. It is also common these days to find vegetarian and vegan options with vegetables, beans and/or artichokes.
International Paella Competition
The history of Paella dates back to the 18th century, the name “paella” deriving from the Old Valencian word for the pan it’s cooked in, which has two handles. To the more recent (1961) when the annual international paella competition, or the “Concurso Internacional de Paella Valenciana” as it’s known in Spanish, began. A 7-day competition judged on the taste, presentation, and adherence to tradition of paella-making, held in the village of Sueca, Valencia. It is regarded as the most prestigious cooking and Paella contest in Spain (and the world) and is known for its giant paella.
As expected, the eastern city of Valencia tops the list, and is officially home to the best paella in the world. When exploring, seek out restaurants that use locally sourced ingredients, especially Bomba rice and fresh seafood, not to forget their famous Valenciana paella with chicken and rabbit. Areas like El Cabanyal and Albufera are well known for their authentic rustic eateries, and, as a rule of thumb, look for the restaurants frequented by locals, as these spots often serve the most traditional and flavorful paellas. It also maybe best to avoid the tourist traps in the city centre.
The Spanish capital is well known for its vibrant culinary scene, blending traditional Spanish flavours with modern innovation. It is also a great place to find Paella. You can start with the usual tourist hubs like Plaza Mayor and Gran Vía, but for more authentic options it is best to explore neighbourhoods like La Latina and Lavapiés. La Barraca and El Club Allard are known for their quality paella, and for a unique waterfront dining experience maybe check out restaurant El Pescador.
With the city’s proximity to the Mediterranean sea, the paella in Malaga is famous for its fresh seafood often combining shrimp, mussels, and squid. There is also the local ‘Paella Malagueña’ which features rice seasoned with saffron, peppers, onions, and garlic, creating a rich and aromatic dish. As expected, many of the best paella restaurants in Malaga are found at the beachside restaurants (such as El Tintero or El Palo) but also the La Malagueta district is well known for hosting some of the best paella in the city.
Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, is probably better known for its Catalan dishes like “fideuà” or “arroz negre”. But it is also known for its seafood-based cuisine, and excellent variations of Paella. A great start to finding authentic paella would be the waterfront areas, like Barceloneta or Port Olímpic, where seafood is fresh and abundant. But The Gothic Quarter and El Born neighbourhoods are also well known for the many restaurants serving up some top-notch paella.
Palma de Mallorca, the capital of the Balearic Islands, boasts fresh seafood ingredients with its proximity to the seas. In Palma, for the best paella experience, head to the waterfront areas like Portixol and Playa de Palma for some paella with picturesque views of the Mediterranean. Also, the historic Santa Catalina neighbourhood is an excellent spot for restaurants sharing authentic paella recipes passed down through generations. Then there’s La Lonja which is known for both its restaurants and charming ambiance.