Cultivating An Authentic Paella Experience

In travel (and in life), always take the “never say die” approach. Disasters are inevitable when faced with foreign cultures and language barriers, so remain optimistic.

While in Valencia recently, I convinced a few friends to travel 30-minutes out of the city to La Albufera — a lagoon nestled beside a  fishing village. The region is also the birthplace of paella and home to some of Valencia’s famous huertas (fertile fields) that cultivate Europe’s finest produce. An authentic experience.

Upon arrival, any hubris I was showing dissipated.

The bus drove off and we were left to stare at a lagoon beside a busy highway. I searched for some interesting discovery or hidden passage to paella, but knew I had led us astray when someone hesitantly asked,

Is anyone else a little disappointed with this?

So I apologised and suggested we head back to Valencia, cut our losses. Remember, we’re in the country, so buses don’t come along very frequently which made me very unpopular. When the bus to Valencia finally arrived, the same bus driver that originally dropped us off asked us about our plans. After learning that we were in search of a fishing village, the bus driver recommended that the next bus going in the opposite direction would take us to such a village. It was only a few miles beyond and the bus would arrive in 10 minutes. Somehow, I managed to get everyone to invest a little more time and keep hope alive!

Unfortunately, I forgot that we were in Spain. It`s never just 10 minutes.

Nearly 30 minutes later, a morning wasted and no bus in sight, I began to envision myself in the many near-empty cars zooming by. It was like the hallucinations of those suffering from dehydration or hunger. Hitch-hiking was not an option. Three minutes later…

As a local man walked over to his car, I flashed a toothy smile and requested, “Contigo?”. Initially confused by my clumsy Spanish, he soon agreed to drive us into town. Of course, the bus arrives just as we’re entering Jorgès car, but the day was such a bust that we all needed a little random and somewhat reckless event. And we were off.

While I practised my Spanish with Jorge, the others were noticing exactly how fast one could speed through tiny rural roads. Oblivious to the speed, I wasn’t fearful in the car. That changed when we drove right by a small town and into a remote rice paddy.
Valencia1We stopped in front of seemingly private, walled compound just a short distance from the town. Before panic set in, we identified the building as a family restaurant and residence. Situated in the middle of a rice paddy, the restaurant proudly sourced it’s ingredients from the waters before it and rice fields surrounding it.

Jorge had brought us to his restaurant. Inside, the massive split level dining room was bustling with patrons. A far cry from its humble exterior. Like an honorary guest, Jorge attentively checked in and delivered complimentary starters every so often.   Seated in the home of paella (literally in the middle of a rice paddy), we enjoyed the best paella ever made. And ate it midday, as intended. Not inventive or experimental, it was traditional, simple and magnificent.

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Seated above a glorious huerta, we drank sangria and ate with our eyes. It was a good day.

Later when asked about our day, we responded simply with: We went out for a nice lunch.

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