The first time I ever heard of this traditional Spanish dish called paella, it was made by a Jewish mother. Not a real Jewish mother, but George Costanza’s mother on Seinfeld. When the Seinfelds cancelled plans to have dinner together, she blurted out,
“What am I supposed to do with all this paella?” — Seinfeld, Episode 80 (1984).
The next time I encountered paella, it was a couple of years later on a Wednesday, at a little restaurant about the size of my living room. I asked my waiter/the owner, “What’s this pay-la that you’ve got right here? Am I saying that right? Pay-la?” He corrected my pronunciation, and then proceeded to tell me that I was in luck because he only made paella on Wednesdays, and it’s so popular that he usually runs out within the first hour of lunch (which is ironic according to the arabic derivation that gives paella’s root word to mean “left over.) It turned out I was not, in fact, in luck because it was already 1PM, and he had indeed run out for the day, but I think it was the next thing he said to me that made that moment stand out in my long-term memory. He said, in a thick accent, that his selling out of paella was “the best advertising I could ever do.” That’s just stuck with me. How can the best advertising a restaurant does be to not make enough food to service its customers? One day shortly after, his restaurant was suddenly no longer there. I wonder if he did too much “advertising.”
The third time I heard of paella, was only about three years ago, and it was also the first time I ever actually ate it. It looked and tasted a lot like jambalaya with yellow rice, so I didn’t feel like I had never had it before, but I hadn’t. This third occasion, that just had to fall right into its own timely stereotype, was at an event with friends that was catered by a company called
Real Paella, here in Tallahassee. Real Paella caters outdoor events, bringing the biggest paella pan you’ve ever seen, and make a big deal out of cooking it and serving it up, complete with a flamenco performance that incorporates a dude banging on a box.
If I’ve had paella since, it was an occasion that was shadowed severely by the spectacle of occasion number 3. One thing is for certain, however, this is my first attempt at making it. I didn’t add all the shellfish, or peas because then no one else in my family would eat it with me, but I dumped other stuff in there. I also didn’t buy a paella pan or cook over an open flame, so if you’re a paella purist, I’m sure you’ve just rolled your eyes at me, but I used real saffron, and it tasted really great with a good dousing of Tabasco.
Anyway, they say that there are hundreds of paella recipes, so now there’s 101.
See you Wednesday for National Black Forest Cake Day!