Spanish Paella: National Dish? Regional Dish? Casus Belli?! 2

paella Photo  Toya Legido/Copyright ICEX–This tempest in a paella pan started out innocently enough. A Catalan beer company produced their annual summer television spot, a three-minute clip that looks like a music video. It features the Spanish group, Love of Lesbian, on an idyllic country outing with a group of beautiful young people. They sing, cavort, swim, drink beer and make a paella over an open fire. It’s a typically Spanish good time, artfully presented. So what caused the scandal that has been dubbed the “Paellagate?”

In one sequence of the video, which lasts scarcely a half a second, one of the beautiful young people can be seen chopping an onion and tossing it into the pan. This heresy is the bone of contention. It seems that an authentic paella does not–under any circumstances–admit onions. Serious paella aficionados affirm that onions turn the rice into a sticky risotto instead of a proper paella with light, loose grains of rice.

The story was picked up by Time Magazine (below) and became an international cause célèbre. Guillermo Navarro, the spokesman for the Comunidad de la Paella de Madrid, declared, “There are lots of ways to make an authentic paella, but none of them including throwing in any old thing that you want. That’s what guiris do.” In Spain the word “guiri” refers to anybody who is not Spanish.

Paella originated in the rice-growing areas of the province of Valencia, where farmers used fresh vegetables from their gardens, chicken, rabbit (or water rats) and sometimes snails to create this quintessential regional dish that soon became the figurehead for Spanish cuisine internationally. But the Valencians remain the arbiters of good taste in the matter. And their fervor knows no bounds. “Onions in paella? You might as well put cinnamon in it!”



  1. Now I know why I don’t use onions in paella. I never knew there was such a thing as “authentic” paella. I have eaten it in many parts of Spain and it was always different if not always good. Some one gave a “family paella recipe which follows. You use rice and saffron and open the refridgerator and put in what ever you find. I do not know if this is authentic but it is very good.

    • That open-the-fridge version is what the purists refer to as a “guiri” (which means “foreigner” not “American,” as the article suggests) paella. Keep in mind, of course, that Valencian nationalists consider the paella as an important part of their cultural identity, which heightens emotions. Non-nationalists are free, of course, to put bubblegum in it.

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