As I mentioned in my first post on Valencia, my original reason for visiting the city was to sample authentic paella. Through eGullet posts and Spanish restaurant critic Rafael García Santos, I had learned that the most authentic paella outside of people's homes was to be found at a restaurant in the countryside about an hour's drive from Valencia in Alicante called Paco Gandía. Paco Gandía cooks the paella over a fire and its ingredients are the traditional rabbit, snails, two kinds of shell beans and two kinds of green beans. You'll notice that there is no seafood in this original paella, which is a dish of the countryside, traditionally cooked by men over an open fire and only eaten at lunch.
Regrettably, I didn't arrange to rent a car in advance and the prices were too high, so I opted for Plan B. Based on Colman Andrew's recommendation in last month's edition of Saveur, I took a long taxi through the rice fields of the Albufera to La Matandeta (Carretera Alfafar-El Saler, technically in the town of Alfafar, but actually closer to El Saler, tel. 34-962-11-21-84), a farmhouse that has been converted into a restaurant. I grew nervous as the car drove on and on past abandoned stone buildings and the driver confessed he had no idea where the restaurant could be.
I was relieved when we spied the adorably rustic building in the distance, surrounded by nothing but field after field of green rice. Now confidant in Mr. Andrew's suggestions, I opted for the arròs morena amb sípia i verdures, black (brown) rice with cuttlefish and artichokes, zucchini, green beans, tomatoes and peas. Again, he was right on target. Not only was this a lovely, smoky and surprisingly subtle dish, but I noticed that table after table ordered the same dish, rather than one of the other dozen rice dishes on the menu, including paella.
A note to those who, like myself, are travelling solo. Paella and the other Valencian rice dishes require a minimum of two people. Unfortunately, if you want to enjoy this justly famous dish, you'll need to pay for two portions (or find a friend to share lunch with).
So, although I've travelled to Spain twice now, I have still never had the original paella! But, with all my knowledge gathered in my cooking class in the Priorat, Penelope Casas' Paella book, and now tasting a properly prepared paella-style rice dish, I feel confident I can produce a good version. All I need is to find a supplier of decent live snails....