Like language, food plays a defining role in cultural identity. Aromatic spices, regional flavors and family recipes offer insight into the culture and history of people. One dish synonymous with Spanish culture is paella, a savory entrée from Valencia, Spain. Just as languages have evolved across the world, so have recipes.
See how different cultures have influenced paella around the globe—and the history behind it. Global interpretations of paella have emerged over the centuries in regions across the globe. Here’s a look at a few of those dishes and the cultures that have influenced them. After reading, download our Spanish language activity, Food for Thought, and give your students a taste of Spanish culture and vocab.
Origin: Valencia, Spain
Meaning: From the old French word paelle, meaning ‘pan’
Ingredients: Chicken, seafood, rice, vegetables, and saffron simmered in broth.
Background: During the 1800s the shortage of timber made it difficult for field workers to cook and they needed a more efficient way to heat their food. The wide, shallow base of the paellera allowed their meal to cook evenly and quickly over an open flame of pinecones and twigs.
Fun Fact: Dinner guests traditionally eat directly out of the paellera right at the table.
History: 330 B.C.
Meaning: From the Greek word poluv meaning ‘diverse mixture’
Ingredients: Traditionally made with rice, pieces of meat, grated carrots and onions
and is cooked in a kazan over an open fire.
Background: First cultivated in Persia where it spread to central Asia. Traditionally plov is made at home by the head of household on special occasions, holidays and weddings.
Fun Fact: Alexander the Great is often credited with inventing plov. According to some, he asked his Asian chef to prepare a meal for his military that was hearty and filling and plov was the dish that resulted.
Origin: New Orleans, U.S.
Meaning: From the Provençal word jambalaia, meaning ‘a mish mash’
Ingredients: Chicken, smoked Andouille sausage, a ‘trinity’ of celery, peppers and onions, followed by tomatoes and shrimp.
Background: Spanish settlers in New Orleans substitute tomatoes for hard-to-find saffron. As French and Caribbean influences grew, a Creole fusion was born into modern day ‘Jambalaya.’
Fun Fact: Jambalaya was served because this one-pot dish was easy to prepare and economical. It became customary to serve at rallies, weddings, and other large events. Today, it is the city’s signature dish.
Arroz Con Gandules [ah-rohs kohn gahn-doo-lehs]
Origin: Puerto Rico
Meaning: Spanish for ‘rice with pigeon peas’
Ingredients: Rice, pigeon peas and pork, cooked in the same pot with Puerto Rican-style sofrito
Background: Thought to have spread from Spain to Latin America by way of Christopher Columbus, this signature dish of Puerto Rico has gained popularity throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
Fun Fact: The crunchy rice that forms at the bottom of the pan is called pegao and is a signature part of the dish in Puerto Rico.
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