When a Paella isn't a Paella


El patrimonio de la paella. The concept of paella goes back to the medieval Moorish tradition of cooking rice and cod casseroles during Lent (when meat was off the menu). But the modern version of paella - derived from the Catalan for 'cooking pan' - was born in the Valencian region of Albufera in the mid-19th century. Today, with the indiscriminate cross-pollination of food cultures taking place across the world's kitchens, traditionalists are digging trenches around their most prized dishes, in a desperate bid to preserve their patrimonial significance. The paella is no exception.

Paella Pertubador: Last week, when British chef Jamie Oliver tweeted gaily of his chorizo and chicken thigh paella, purring about how 'Spanish cuisine doesn't get much better', he hardly expected to infuriate half of Iberia. In a surprising Spanish media backlash, La Vanguardia ran an article listing 'Other Affronts to Spanish Cuisine by Guiri Chefs'. Meanwhile one website offered amusing suggestions for adaptations of typical English dishes, including 'fish n'chips con berenjena y pato', and social media forums overflowed with a heady mix of outraged vitriol and photo montages, one of which combined what ABC called Oliver's 'palid rice' with amateur artist Cecilia Gimenez's controversial and hilarious painting over of the Ecce homo de Borja. In the midst of all this, Spain found itself asking a question of national importance: Is there really an auténtico paella?

The Ten Commandements of the One True Paella: According to Wikipaella, a non-profit organization promoting 'recognition and appreciation of the authentic paella,' the dish must include ten common ingredients. The components of this act of alchemy are; arroz (preferably DO Valencia), water, saffron, tomato, flat 'ferradura' beans, rabbit, chicken, butter beans and, of course, hyper-ultra-virgen olive oil.

But what of paprika, garlic or peas? Expendable extras. And God forbid, if you use Avecreme stock cubes. For bona fide paella stock, you'll need to stew your meat for a good 45 minutes. The paella, according to chef Tony Montoliu, the alma mater of the legendary La Barraca restaurant in the Valencian locality of Meliana, is the essence of the slow food concept. A good paella should simmer for four hours over a wood fire. And 'you have to use your ears as well as your eyes,' Montoliu claims. 'When you throw in the rice the pan makes a cloc-cloc-cloc. When the rice begins to tense up, it makes a clic-clic. The last five minutes are critical.'

I bet Toni doesn't put chorizo in his paella: Certainly not. And I'll bet he doesn't squeeze tomato ketchup in his bolognaise. Or pollute an acorn-fed jamon bocadillo with slices of gouda. And Toni's not the only stickler for tradition. Hence the outraged trolling, twooting and twerking social media response to Oliver's paella sacrilege. It's further proof of a burgeoning form of collective madness in our viral, post-liberal, referenda-obssessed age; the Eat n' Tweet phenomena. Wherever we turn on the Internet we're assaulted by semi-pornogaphic images of what people are digesting into their innards.

I eat, therefore I am. But why must we tweet and retweet our breakfast? Facebook our feijoada? Instagram our insalata?

Maybe it just makes a pretty photo: Social media expert, Amanda Connolly claimed last year: 'Right now, there are almost 300 million food photos on Instagram. For reference, there are 57 million travel photos and 69 million sunsets. It’s only pipped by selfies, of which there are currently 316 million (and counting).

Apart from the obvious need of the lonely modern virally-veined individual to share everything into a pool of communal consciousness resembling the Pacific Trash Vortex, there's the fact that many many more people now eat out alone. A statistical report found that in the USA alone, half of all customers in restaurants are single diners. The TV dinner has been replaced by the Web dinner. In South Korea, this a combination of lonesome noshing and Internet addiction has led to Mok-Bang, where people live-stream their meals, and dozens of virtual dining partner apps. But thankfully for these diners, uploading your food on social media also apparently makes it taste better.

Eh? According to a 'new study' made by the University of San Diego Instagramming your plate of food instantly makes it more desirable and flavoursome.

Why? '...those made to take a picture of red velvet cake perceived it to be tastier and more pleasurable than those who did not take a picture of the same cake...'

Groundbreaking stuff. Indeed. Now, if you'll excuse me I'm off to share my burned English breakfast on Pinterest. #foodgasm.

Final word: Toni Nova, chef of legendary paella locale, Casa Carmelo: 'the paella is the paella, the others are just 'arrozes con...' or 'arrozes de...'

Final final word: Clic-clic-clic.

#humor #spaintravel #food #spanishcurrentaffairs #media #socialmedia #cuisine

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