Pass the paella, por favor

Man, I just love paella. What a treat, a real Mediterranean treat. Spain’s Mediterranean, right? I mean, yeah, I know it’s Mediterranean, it’s right on the sea. But paella, is that like a coastal thing? Like do the people in northern Spain eat paella? How often, daily? Do the northern Spanish consider themselves Mediterranean? Or when they eat paella, are they thinking to themselves the same thing I am, the whole, “Wow! Paella! What a Mediterranean treat!”

perfect paella

It’s just so good. I wish I could be eating some paella right now, like right as I’m typing this. Which, yeah, I know it’s not possible. It’s hardly possible to eat paella when you’re sitting down at a table with a whole place setting. And don’t get me wrong, the fact that it’s not the most convenient dish to eat takes nothing away from its flavor, its subtle elegance and accessibility to a wide audience of diners.

But yes, a total pain to eat. There’s always rice everywhere by the time you’re done. And it’s not like I don’t know how to eat rice, I do. It’s just that, you sit down to that pot of fresh paella, and it’s always stuffed, overstuffed I would say. You try to make a clean spoonful, but your utensil hits some sort of clam, or mussel, and it’s not just the meat, it’s the whole shell. The imbalance sends everything flying, rice everywhere. There’s a piece of sausage in there somewhere, but it fell along with the rice onto the floor.

It’s OK. It’s paella. It’s a colorful dish, very Mediterranean, loads of flavor, of different flavors, did I mention clam shells? So your kitchen’s going to be a little messy. Have you ever been to the Spanish Riviera? Well, I haven’t. But I imagine it to be full of vibrant people eating paellas, rice and little tiny chopped up pieces of chicken (impossibly tiny, maybe not even there at all) flying this way and that.

You don’t see paella everywhere, which is a shame, because I try to order it wherever I go. “I’ll take the paella, please,” I inform the hostess before she even has a chance to bring me to my table. She’ll say something like, “Well, your server will be right over,” and then when the server does show up, I say something like, “Oh, it’s OK, I already ordered the paella from that woman over there.”

Yes, I understand that it’s a little loco to just assume that every random restaurant is going to carry paella. It’s a total crapshoot. But I’m hoping that by the time the server goes over to talk to the hostess, “He said something about paella?” they’ll be confused enough to maybe get a manager involved, perhaps a consultation with the chef wouldn’t be totally out of the question either.

Of course, the manager is going to try and be outright dismissive, “What the hell is this guy talking about? Paella, please, this is a barbeque restaurant,” but I’m hoping that one day this discussion is going to be happening in front of a chef who happens to be from Spain. From the paella part, the Mediterranean part. Maybe he’s not from there, but he definitely lived there. And he definitely loves paella.

And so he interrupts the manager, “Wait,” and as everyone stops to hear him out, he just kind of does this subtle nod, almost too subtle, the manager has to have it spelled out for him, “Hold on a second, you know what this guy is talking about?” Again, the chef just nods. He knows Spain. He knows paella.

And as everybody else in my party starts in on their ribs and brisket, all of the sudden the chef will appear with this cast iron pot. He’ll set it down in front of me and lift open the top. Before me, once the steam clears so I’m able to see, it’s going to be the perfect paella, a paella to end all paellas.

“Buen provecho,” he’ll toast as he watches just long enough to see me take that first magical bite. The perfect paella. Man, I was hungry for paella when I started writing this, but now it’s like, I need some paella. It’s the best meal. Like yes, every once in a while you’ll get a bad mussel, like it hasn’t opened up, and there’s a slime kind of oozing from the sides of the shell, a shell that definitely doesn’t smell right, and the smell sort of infects the rest of the paella in an almost insidious way. But when it’s right, like when it’s on, it’s paella all the way, I’m always ordering paella, more paella, please, pass the paella.

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