Valencia: paella!. . . and other stuff

December 10, 2011 • 6:18 am

The first stop on my trip to Spain was Valencia, where I had been invited to give a talk by the biology department at the University of Valencia. When invited, I agreed but requested that I be taken to sample a good specimen of paella, for Valencia is of course world famous for this dish.

The day before the talk they showed me the venue, which was an auditorium with a spiffy name. To my right is Cristina Pla Gallent, a graduate student in paleontology who invited me (she is the friend of the son of an old college friend, and had told me that if I was ever in Spain I should stop by and give a seminar.  I don’t know whether she expected me to take up her invitation!).  To my left is Ana Márquez Aliaga, who teaches in the Department of Geology.

A bit more dressed up the next day, I gave my talk, but was very hoarse because of a virus. I more or less croaked out my talk, and went through three bottles of water desperately trying to lubricate my throat.  I was told the talk went okay (but they always say that!), and afterwards I was presented with a gift: a coffee-table-size illustrated version of The Origin, produced by two Spanish biologists and illustrated by a local artist. It was lovely.

In the photo below, I begin the lecture on speciation by presenting my concept of species, which is basically that of Ernst Mayr, whose picture appears in the slide:

The next day Cristina, her friend Adam, and my friends Kenny and Jane King had a guided walking tour of Valencia, which is a lovely town (I’ll show more pictures this week). While scouting around for lunch, I spotted this place and immediately brought the party to a halt.  The window was filled with tempting dishes of paella and various other local rice casseroles.  That’s the true paella Valenciana to the right, but I’m not sure of the names of the other three dishes in the next two photos (perhaps an informed reader can weigh in):

Although we were heading to another restaurant, I begged everyone to let us eat there. It turned out to be a good choice. Here is the three-course menu–for only 10 Euros!  Note that it includes coffee and a “drink,” which turned out to be a nice bottle of wine for four people. (It’s always good value to get the “menú del dia”.)

For the first course, I naturally chose the paella valenciana.  This classical dish is made with chicken, rabbit, rice and broad beans.  The amount they gave me would have been enough for a full meal, and it was great:

My second course was the “brascada de lomo”, a pork steak in a rich sauce, smothered with onions and served with vegetables.

Dessert, also great, was a tiramisu:

Here’s my friend Kenny, about to crack a bottle of the local white wine, which was very good:

The meal was followed by coffee. I usually have an espresso after lunch, but in Spain everyone appears to drink a cortado, an espresso with a bit of hot milk:

And after coffee they served us a slushy lemon drink; I’m not sure what it was but it was just the ticket to clean and refresh the palate:

A splendid meal for 10 euros ($13.38)! Afterwards, the paper table covering looked like an abstract painting:

The next day we had a real paella excursion, to the Restaurant El Famós on the outskirts of Valencia. It is owned by an artist who’s a friend of Cristina’s father, himself a well known painter in Spain.  “El Famós,” named after the artist, is said to produce some of the best paella in Valencia, though you wouldn’t know it from its unprepossessing exterior:

As friends of the family, we were allowed to tour the kitchen. And there is the glory: pan after pan of incipient paellas cooking over small sticks of wood (I’m told that they use orange wood).  The vats of stock, chicken, rabbit, and vegetables simmer over the fires until a paella is ordered:

Doesn’t that look good? The smell was overwhelming, inducing a Pavlov-dog reaction. When a paella is ordered, they put the rice in and cook it to doneness. They won’t let an order sit for more than twenty minutes after the dish is finished.

I posed next to the well-used paella pans, of different sizes for different orders:

Here is the artist who owns the place, presenting the finished dish.  His name is Vincente Famós:

Before we ate paella, there are the obligatory appetizers: fried calamari and fried potatoes, both served with aioli, a garlicky sauce made with olive oil and eggs. Here’s Adam, Cristina’s friend, presenting the aioli:


And the main course: paella valenciana. It was absolutely terrific, and we ate ourselves silly.

Our party: Cristina, Adam, my old friend Kenny, and his wife Jane. Kenny and Jane are vegetarians and so ordered a non-meat paella.

At last I had had my paella, and very good it was, too.

Just to complete the story, here is Cristina’s father, the well known artist Luis Pla Esterelles (and friend of Vincente, the paella guy).  He gave us a tour of his studio, and I show two of his pictures (he does many different kinds of paintings, including figures and landscapes, but I particularly like the cloth applied to canvas):

His paintings:

27 thoughts on “Valencia: paella!. . . and other stuff

  1. I was avoiding commenting on this because I have never had paella, nor been to Spain. But this has been up for nearly an hour without a comment, and it’s exactly the kind of thing that keeps me coming back to WEIT.

    I did have rabbit, though, at Aux Anciens Canadiens in Quebec.

    Food, fun and friends. Nothing better than that. Thanks, Jerry.

  2. Wow, it looks like you’ve had a great time on Valencia.
    I’m from there, and I went to your speech too (I was the girl who asked about the female flies if you remember it), which I think was great.

    You asked about the names of the two dishes on one of the photos (“shop window 2”), well, the one with yellow coloured rice is named “arrós a banda”, and the black one “arrós negre” (black rice).

    Hope you enjoyed the time you spent on our contry and recommend it to some of your colleagues, it’s always good to have some of the world thinking minds on our college.

    PS: Sorry for my English level

  3. Mr. Coyne, when you post such large huge posts with pictures do what PZ and other bloggers do.

    Post the beginning of the post and at the end put a link “read more” which then expands the post in its entirety..

  4. I’m salivating in a Pavlovian way even without the smell, just from watching the pictures. I also indulge in Spanish food and wine when I’m there, it’s great. Expresso isn’t really that good in Spain, at least if one is used to Portuguese or Italian, so I also tend to go for the coffee with a bit of milk thingy. How long did the meal last?

  5. If you’d been in Italy, I’d’ve said that the slushy lemon drink was granita, also served in bowls as a desert. Spanish Wikipedia compares granita to “los granizados españoles”, which Google translate renders as “Spanish slush”.

    So, I’d say it was a granizado… ?


  6. Those fixed-price, 3- or 4-course meals seem to be really popular on the coast of Spain, something I wish was more popular here in the US. I pretty much lived off of those the week I spent in Catalunya.

    Paella is pretty fun to make at home. It’s tricky getting the browning on the bottom right, but it just takes practice, which is its own reward!

    1. Just curious, how old is it? How can one tell?

      I get occasionally informed that I have an old cellphone. I don’t feel deprived since I’m not inclined to text and tweet (even if some omniscient adolescent, pontificating in the NY Times a few months ago, considers email “so lame”).

  7. Hi Jerry

    What a great post! Paella mmmh! Very good pictures too. Those cloth collages are magnificent ~ the second one could almost be a shroud…

    QUESTION: Was your talk recorded by the University of Valencia? I’m particularly interested in your lecture on speciation: “…presenting my concept of species, which is basically that of Ernst Mayr…” If not, do you plan to post your notes & slides?

    Off to buy a nice bottle of white wine ~ the post did it

  8. I’m full of envy; when I was a kid we lived near the French/Spanish border, where they make paellas with seafood, particularly mussels and calamari, along with the regular meats. It’s always been my favorite meal, but I don’t know of anyplace in the US that serves an authentic one such as you had.

  9. Please stop making posts such as these. I am drooling so badly I am afraid I may short out my laptop. I guess I may have to stop reading WEIT until you get back.

  10. the only paella i’ve ever had was made by a belgian. but, my question is when did dan dennett move to spain and open a paella restaurant?

  11. ¡Qué rica!

    I have never had paella before, but it looks delicious (and I am really not that into rice). My girlfriend and I both want to visit Spain at some point, so I’ll have to add indulging in some paella to the “to do” list.

  12. What a wonderful post! Thank you Mr. Coyne.

    I have recently started comping to your site, after following a link from PZ’s site. And I have to say that I have enjoyed every post so far.

  13. Finest promo of Valencia ever seen! Delighted that you are enjoying every moment, as your contribution to all of us is just soooo big.
    And a reminder – your book is in eBook form, however not for Australia. I’m waiting. The publishers are mean – and Australia is a country of early adopters.

  14. Hi Jerry!

    Very well done with the website! I really like it! And I can help you with the names of the other local rice casseroles, the one next to the paella is “arroz al horno”. The other two local rice dishes of the other picture are “arroz a banda” on the left, it is typical from Alicante (with seafood) and “arroz negre” with octopus on the right.

    Thank you very much for all your detail with the comments and also for being such a food lover! I also think it is a great pleasure in life!

    Ah! I also would like to clarify that the name of the lemon drink is “granizado”

  15. Very nice, thanks for sharing these.

    Wow! Great price at that first restaurant! Only €10 for that lunch! Holy Ceiling Cat!

  16. I am a biologist from Valencia, but I have been living in the US and Mexico for the last 15 years. I am sorry that I missed Jerry’s talks and gastronomic experiences at my city of origin. I wanted to comment that the beans used in the “paella” (by the way, “paella” is a word in the catalán regional language, and means “pan”, as in “frying pan”) are not “broad beans” (Vicia faba), but a special kind of broad and flat “green bean” (Phaesolus vulgaris) called “ferraura” in the local dialect. They are similar to what in the US are known as “Polish Green Beans”, but with a more curved shape (resembling a “horseshoe” = “Ferraura” in catalán, “Herradura” in Spanish). Besides that, the “Paella” has white beans (Phaesolus vulgaris) of a variety called “tabella” which is harvested when the beans are still tender (only the seeds of this bean are used). Finally, another kind of bean, the “garrofó” is an essential ingredient of the “paella”. I believe this “garrofó” is what is named “Lima bean” in the US, although the white beans of this kind used in Valencia are usually much larger than the ones I have seen in the US. The “garrofó” is another species of bean, Phaesolus lunatus, and it has a South American origin (so the English name is correct).
    Besides these beans, the “paella” has another ingredient of American origin, the tomato. Artichokes, from American origin as well, are used frequently in the dish. The basic rice is from oriental origin. But at least the essential ingredients olive oil, saffron and rosemary come from the Mediterranean region. So, “Paella” is actually a dish from a globalized World. However, the recipe changes as you move far from Valencia, and losses its Mediterranean “hedonistic” touch. I live in America now (Mexico), and I have trouble in finding the American ingredients for my monthly “paella”, since they are not common in the Mexican markets. I have to ask for supplies of “garrofó” and saffron from Spain when family comes to visit. And artichokes are rare and bloody expensive here. “Ferraura” is not found anywhere, so I have to use regular green beans.
    I wonder if Jerry, besides the “Granizado de limón” (lemon slush or granita) had our more special and delicious Valencian drink: “Horchata”. “Horchata” is made from the tubers of the sedge Cyperus sculentus, and it is simply the most delicious and refreshing drink you can have in the hot Mediterranean summer. The moisturized tubers are grinded with a bit of lemon juice and peel, and cinnamon, and mixed with water and sugar. The mix is squeezed through a cloth and the white milky liquid is cooled or half frozen into a slush. You feel in wonderland when it runs down your throat.
    Best wishes, TONI

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