Outdoor festivals in Valencia call for traditional fare made in gargantuan pans.
Valencia, an autonomous region on the east coast of Spain, touts itself as the birthplace of paella. Chefs around the world execute this popular rice dish in an array of styles, but rich, smoky Valencian-style paella has guidelines. The ingredient list traditionally includes saffron, rabbit, chicken, snails, and a medley of local beans (broad string ferraura, dried garrofo, and white tavella, specifically). And many who come in search of the epicurean specialty aren’t just in town for eating; this meal is just as much about the show.
Often made in laughably humongous portions, Valencian-style paella is perfect for food festivals and cook-offs. Visitors flock to the region to revel in the grandiosity of the culinary ritual: Cooked outdoors, over an open fire, in a pan designed for the likes of a fairy-tale giant, the finished marvel can feed hundreds. Today, there are Spanish companies that specialize in turning a giant paella into a collective eating party. They partner with local governments that put on community festivals, then travel from town to town on a mission to bring out large, paella-hungry crowds.
Various festivals in Spain, ranging from local gatherings to international competitions, culminate in free handouts of giant paella for anyone in attendance. In Valencia, the small town of Castalla honored Valencia Day in 2018 by serving a massive, seafood-free paella with white beans. Celebrants lined up for more than two hours just to get a taste. In Sueca, a Valencian riverside city, an annual paella contest that features multiple giant rice-filled pans, has taken place since 1961.
Where to Try It
Concurs Internacional de Paella ValencianaAyuntamiento de Sueca Plaça de l'Ajuntament, Sueca, 46410, Spain
The paella contest has been going strong since 1961.