Fiesta. Can you think of a more 'Spanish' word? But what does it actually mean? The dictionary will tell you it means 'party', 'festival' or 'celebration', but live here for any amount of time and you'll discover that 'fiesta' can cover much more. This is the first of a number of posts which will try to show you some of the meanings.
Let's start with food. What food do you think of when you think of España? It's probably paella.
The most famous Spanish dish of all. But do you know how to say paella so that a Spaniard will understand you? Listen to how it’s said and notice how the double ‘l’ in Spanish sounds like an English ‘y’.
So you know how to say it, but do you know how it’s made? To be honest, paella is a little like Italian pizza in that there are many variations. Paella originated in the Valencia region, so paella Valenciana is probably the most traditional version.
Let’s have a look at one being made. But this isn’t an ordinary paella. This is a paella for a local fiesta (party or celebration) so this is going to be a paella monumental. Can you guess what that means? You probably will when I tell you that the first thing you'll need to do is close the street. (Monumental means enormous.)
Light a fire and a heat up a large paella pan. (Locals will tell you that the wood must come from the local orange trees.) The pan in the picture can feed 6,000, although today it's 'only' going to cater for 2,000. So, oil the pan and throw in some chicken (pollo) and rabbit (conejo) to fry gently.
Next comes some vegetables (verduras) and the Spanish are particularly keen on green and butter beans, so throw the box in.
A pinch (well, a potful) of saffron (azafran), a spice which will give the dish flavour and its famous yellow-orange (amarillo-naranja) colour.
Then comes the main ingredient of all paellas, rice (arroz), loads of it.
You can enjoy paella hot or cold. Traditionally it was a lunchtime meal for the farmers out in the rice fields south of Valencia. Nowadays, these paellas monumentales are often held as fundraisers. Everyone is welcome, and a 3 or 4 euro (2 or 3 pounds) ticket will get you a plate of paella, a drink (una bebida) and a place at the hottest table in town.
It can take over an hour to cook, so usually there will be some 'regional entertainment' to keep you occupied while you build up an appetite. It was the arab invaders, over 1,000 years ago, who brought rice to this part of Spain and started the paella tradition, so, what could be more appropriate than a ‘belly-dance’?
N.B. This is an edited version of a post from my Zen Kyu Maestro blog. (February 11th 2012.)