The first, primitive, forms of paella started in the tenth century. In this case, you could say that paella exists for more than a thousand years. However, it took until 1840 before the word ‘paella’ used in public for the first time. The authentic paella as we know it today was born in the nineteenth century. Since that time, authentic paella has a fixed combination of ten ingredients.
Rice cultivation at the basis of paella
The main reason why the paella dish was created in the Valencia region is the presence of large-scale rice cultivation. That paella rice is the base of the paella and an essential ingredient.
It was the Moors who brought rice cultivation from the Far East and Africa to Spain in the tenth century.
Thanks to the Romans, who occupied large parts of Spain many centuries earlier, the area around the city of Valencia turned out to be perfect for cultivating rice.
The Romans built an extended irrigation system. Because of this, the lake of Albufera, formerly a saltwater lake, has slowly become fresh. As a result, the lake with its swampy surroundings was very well suited for growing various types of rice.
The first paella was born out of necessity
Rice was an exotic product for the Spaniards. Because of its limited presence, it was quite expensive.
As a result, the rice mainly ended up with the wealthy elite. Luxurious rice dishes were often served around celebrations and religious events.
However, it was the workers in the rice fields who were the founders of the first paella.
These workers suffered under the Moorish regime. They lived in great poverty. To have a little food, they started using rice to prepare meals.
This resulted in rice dishes often being made during lunch. To make these dishes tasty and nutritious, everything they could find was used as an ingredient — also rats, snails, and local beans.
The origin of the modern paella
Over time, rice became an increasingly prominent part of the local cuisine of the Valencian region — especially when, from the fifteenth century, the Chefs in restaurants frequently served rice dishes.
Through the years, prosperity continued to increase, and ingredients such as rabbit, duck, and chicken were used more often. This change of ingredients was the first step in the development of paella as we know it today.
At the end of the nineteenth century the authentic ‘Paella Valenciana’ had taken its present form. This authentic paella was prepared with ten ingredients which are still used today.
Authentic paella under threat
During the Twentieth Century, paella spread throughout the world. As a result, the dish was slipping away from the Valencians, and they saw their authentic paella being ruined with exotic ingredients.
The proud Valencians could not allow this to happen. To prevent the loss and misuse of the name Paella Valenciana, they have applied for protected status for paella.
The status of the authentic Paella Valenciana has been protected since 2014, and the dish is classified as cultural heritage of the region of Valencia.