Valencian paella is on its way to becoming officially accredited for its cultural importance and heritage, according to a recent announcement from La Comisión Técnica para el Estudio e Inventario del Patrimonio Inmaterial de la Generalitat. It is said that it will become a bien de interés cultural - an object of cultural interest.
The Spanish governing body aims to preserve the cultural heritage of the country. Not only does it protect monuments, archeological artefacts and historic sites, it also recognises non-physical cultural phenomena such as language variants, festivals and events.
Now, the hope is that paella will be officially recognised for its cultural importance; not just for the dish itself but for ‘el arte de unir y compartir’ - the art of getting together and sharing.
The dish of paella itself is a cultural smorgasbord, combining elements of two key cultural influences of Spain: the Romans, who originated the typical paella pan, and the Arabs, who brought over the rice, making the dish a perfect blend of Spain’s historical elements.
Paella Valenciana is a native valencian dish originating from the fifteenth century with the traditional recipe passed down from generation to generation preserving its identity and culture.
More than just a world-famous dish, paella represents the act of spending time with family and friends. Typically enjoyed by Valencians on a Sunday, paella valenciana is a way of bringing people together through both the preparation phase and actually sitting down to eat. The meal was originally enjoyed eaten directly from the pan - the same style that Valencians usually share paella in the modern day.
Vice-Mayor of the city, Sandra Gomez, has recently tweeted that paella ‘es una forma de vivir, de compartir’ – demonstrating how to her, like many other Valencians, paella is seen as an aspect of daily life and way of sharing which truly unites them. Nowadays, the traditional Valencian paella is recognised on both a national and international scale and enjoyed by people all over the world.
Aside from the cultural rituals, paella originates from Valencia as a matter of geography. Rice is grown in the region of Albufera, Spain’s largest freshwater lagoon located just outside of the city of Valencia. The bomba variety, exported worldwide as ‘paella rice’, hails from these rice fields and is known for its ability to absorb water whilst still maintaining its consistency, one of the reasons it is so flavoursome.
From humble beginnings, the dish has gained world-wide recognition. So popular, in fact, that there is a World Paella Day celebrated internationally on September 20th. Supported by the Town Hall of Valencia, along with other Valencian organisations, the day is designed to acknowledge paella’s cultural heritage and ongoing importance in the daily lives of Valencians. Timed to coincide with the rice cultivation in September, the day is celebrated across the world with many chefs participating worldwide.
Paella has transformed over the years, shifting from a peasants’ food to a staple dish at some of the trendiest Valencian restaurants. Some of the city’s most renowned chefs famously play with the classic recipe. Key gourmet trends have included shifting the volume of the rice to “un dedo” (one finger’s width) and recreating socarrat, the burnt layer typically found at the bottom of the paella pan.
Paella will not be the first Valencian trademark to be recognised for its cultural importance. The annual Fallas festival, arguably the most important festival in all of Valencia, has also received accreditation from La Comisión Técnica para el Estudio e Inventario del Patrimonio Inmaterial de la Generalitat. Additionally, the Tribunal of Aguas (the water court), L’Horta (a traditional region of Valencia), the Cant de la Carxofa de Alaquas (a religious ceremony) and Valencian vocabulary have been acknowledged and accredited for their cultural relevance.