January 30, 2012

Fallas, a photo teaser, part 1: Remembering the fallas of 2010

We are getting closer to the full throttle Fallas season. Just barely six weeks away. (Still time to book a train or flight, and maybe a hotel.) To celebrate the this year's Fallas season, I'm posting some teaser entries, using photos and videos from Fallas 2010 (when I went a bit crazy documenting my first Fallas back after 8 years of being away) to illustrate to you the beauty, creativity, fun, and craziness that is Valencia's Fallas festival. Enjoy!

The daily "mascletà" by the Ayuntamiento de Valencia is what marks the beginning of Fallas each year. Starting March 1st, and then continuing everyday at 2PM in the town plaza up until March 19th, different fireworks companies set off 
what I've taken to explaining as a "sound fireworks show", which generally lasts around 5 minutes.

Here is my zoom-in of the mascletà, to show you the hanging strings of fireworks, fenced off for safety. My friends at the dormant blog Hola Valencia got highly prized balcony "seats" for a mascletà one year. Check out one of their posts about it here.

The Falla Sueca, one of the yearly greats and always very crowded, located in the Rusaffa neighborhood. The price-tag of this falla: 300,000 euros!

The fallas are, of course, the centerpiece of Fallas. In 2010 there were around 700 distinct fallas, each set up by a local neighborhood committee of "falleros," known as the "casal faller". The neighborhood falleros spend the entire year fundraising (selling lottery tickets, for example), organizing, and designing the falla. The fallas are officially set up on March 15th and 16th, during "la plantà".

Falla Convento-Jerusalén, another large and popular falla. Note the enormous height, size, and detail... and bear in mind that they are going to burn this down in just a few days! The price-tag of this falla: also 300,000 euros. This falla won 1st prize in 2010, with its theme of "Rumbo al Paraiso", or "Towards Paradise," designed by artist Paco López Albert to represent the four seasons of the year.

Here, below, is the Falla Na Jordana, another one of the greats. Its "lema" ("theme") in 2010: "Pel que veig estás boig," meaning "So far as I can tell, you're crazy" in Catalan... it is an homage to the nearby psychiatric hospital which is now 600 years old. The price tag of this falla: a mere 140,000 euros.

Below is the Falla Almirant, our favorite that year, with a decidedly 1930s Chicago theme. This falla won 3rd prize in the special section contest!

Here is a close-up on one of the Falla Almirant's "ninots"... a ninot is a paper-mâché puppet or figurine. A large falla might contain hundreds of ninots. They will all be burned on March 19th, la nit de la cremà, except for one ninot from the 1st-place falla, which is saved and placed in the Fallas museum.

Another important Fallas tradition is... political commentary. In the falla close-up shown below, seated on vacation is Francisco Camps, the former Valencian Community President, and the subject of many fallas in 2010. Camps was at the center of a corruption scandal, "el caso Gürtel". (He probably embezzled public money, but for a long time would not step down from office. Update: last week he was declared not guilty by a jury on a 5-4 vote... forgive me if I still have my doubts.) The placard in the back says (in English): "Supercamps: Crisis. What crisis?" Fallas traditionally incorporate playful commentary on such local disputes from the past year into their design.

The origin of these political taunts were neighborhood critiques. Traditionally (beginning in the 18th or 19th century or so) fallas were built out of or on top of the trashed wooden furniture, tossed out onto the streets for spring cleaning... a tradition (tied to the San José Saint's Day) which this creative, and more modest falla used as its theme in 2010. Neighbors would make (in theory playful) references to community disputes from the past year.

A more recent trend is the internationalization of such political commentary. For example, it is a rare year that passes without the U.S. president (as well as EU leaders) appearing somewhere in a falla. Obama is an irresistible subject. Here in the Almirant Falla you can see him in a lifesaver made from dollars with the Titanic made out of euros behind him... on the ship, Spain's former president Zapatero and other European past and present officials, Germany's Angela Merkel and Italy's Silvio Berlusconi for example.

Pictured here is another important part of the Fallas tradition... the "falla infantil". This miniature falla is built separately from the main falla, with a theme targeted to children. The fallas infantiles are burned a couple of hours earlier on la nit de la cremà, so that kids can watch it before going to bed. They also have a separate prize competition for them, which means that neighborhoods with a more modest budget can compete in this, when they might not be able to keep up with the bigger main fallas.

I especially liked this falla infantil, located right next to the Torres de Serranos, because its theme was celebrating Valencia's food markets and the superior quality of Valencia's produce  :-)

The other important element of a Fallas - its light display. All fallas have a series of hanging lights which guide you down the street to their falla. Most are pretty modest, but this one from the Falla Sueca, illustrates how elaborate some can be.

Naturally, the light display has its own competition. This one for the Falla Cuba was the 1st prize winner this year. Apparently it was made by an Italian company, Mariano Light Sculptures, that specializes in decorative light displays.

There is actually a nexus of great falla light displays at an intersection of a several streets in Rusaffa... Sueca, Cuba, Literato-Azorín. I got carried away and took a ton of these photos.

Here was the Ayuntamiento's (the municipal government) official falla. It is the only falla that can not be considered in any of the competitions (for obvious political reasons). And while large and technically impressive, it is also always politically bland... very politically safe and wholesome (for obvious political reasons). Though in 2010 it had a hilarious miniature parade of pigeons dressed up as falleras, and a "bombers" (firefighters) ninot which was a crowd-pleaser.

But did you think this was all? No way! I've only just started to explain what Fallas is. In the next entry I'll explain all the other elements that add breadth to the festival, making it way more than just the fallas. To be continued... 

January 27, 2012

Synesthesia:: Film: Biutiful (2010) // Local Vocab: "Top manta"

With all the talk last week about SOPA (no, not "soup", but the aborted U.S. Congressional act) and MegaUpload, you might forget that there are more old-fashioned ways to infringe on brand-names and copyrights that are still alive and well. That's why for today's entry I'm going to discuss the topic of "top manta" in Spain. Well, actually, I'm going to try out a new thing, where I blend two blog categories, "Local Vocab" and "Film," into one, so as to create a more mixed sensorial experience. To really understand the top manta system, it helps to see the powerful Spanish movie, Biutiful (2010), which among other things provides a profile of the practice with all of its social messiness.

Top manta: street vendors selling knock-off or illegal copies of goods
laid out on sheets. You'll see them all over Spain.

Alejandro González Iñárritu's film Biutiful takes place in present-day Barcelona, and stars Javier Bardem as Uxbal, a man of many roles (single father, liaison between illegal immigrants and corrupt cops, ghost whisperer) who lives among the city's seedier community and who, in addition to these routine challenges, is suddenly finding his life turned upside down by a series of personal crises. First of all, kudos to Iñárritu for accomplishing something which seems to be impossible for sentimental Americans: to describe Barcelona as a modern city with global influences and serious social problems. I couldn't agree more with Regina from The Spain Scoop when she says about the film
"It’s the Barcelona you don’t want to see. The part we try to ignore as we buy cheap sunglasses from the African guy on the street or a handbag from the Chinese shop. Why think about where something comes from when you’re saving $10, right?
The Barcelona of Biutiful is gritty, even ugly at times. (Lest you forget that historically Barcelona was once an industrial city, not a vacation jaunt.)

Three members of the Bardem acting dynasty: Javier (yes, we're on a first-name basis)
is from one of Spain's several acting family dynasties. Here you can see his mom,
Pilar Bardem Muñoz, whose been in hundreds of films herself, and Javier's brother
Carlos Bardem, who made an acting splash recently in Celda 211 (2009).

Here's a sensory confusion experiment: watch Biutiful and Woody Allen's Vicky Christina Barcelona (2008) back-to-back. The only continuity across them is Bardem. You'd almost never recognize that they use the same city for a backdrop. Heck, I don't think there's a better way than watching these two movies next to each to expose the silly clichés that Americans draw upon when they film in Europe. It's like American directors pack with them a cultural blindfold when they travel over here to shoot movies. (Woody Allen appears to be making a living off of cataloguing clichés on Europe's more famous capitals. At least his most recent movie, Midnight in Paris, features a self-consciously backward-looking, romantic and nostalgic American.)

Bardem as tortured hustler in Biutiful (left); Bardem as tortured latin lover
in Vicky Christina Barcelona (right) … Common threads? Crazy ex-girlfriends?

Interlude: I'm quite an avid film-goer. Indeed, starting this week my wife and I are gearing up for the Oscars season, trying to watch as many nominated films as illegally downloading the movies the delayed release of American movies here will allow us. So being myself something of a self-made film critic, after watching Biutiful last year I decided that these movies should be put in their own genre, which I have come to call "Precious" movies. Not precious in the sense of invaluable, though they are that too. But "Precious" as in the 2009 Oscar-winning film Precious… movies that are depressingly raw, where with each step forward things get worse and worse, where you are left thinking humanity is fundamentally flawed, you realize how spoiled or fortunate you are (because the protagonists are completely screwed), you think, Oedipus, you don't know how good you had it… and yet despite these gut-wrenching, slit-my-wrist plot twists, they are mesmerizing. Somehow, you can't look away. And somehow it's not exactly utterly depressing either. The tragedy of the film, yet the way in which the characters move forward despite it all is almost inspiring, or at least elegant in its realism. (Another candidate for this category: Lilya 4-Ever (2002).) Question to the audience: do you have any other film nominations for this genre?

Proposal for new category at the Academy Awards: "Best Almost But Didn't Quite Slit My Wrist Film".
Lead contenders: Precious / Lilya 4-Ever / Biutiful.

As with all "Precious films", Biutiful provides us a catalogue of social ills: illegal Chinese and Subsaharan immigrant labor problems, police corruption and brutality, repressed homosexuality, mental illness and drug addiction, child abuse and child labor… and I'm sure I've left something out. But one of the more systematic social ills featured in this movie is the system of top manta. The word "top manta" comes from combining "top", as in 'on top', with "manta" the Spanish word for blanket. I.e. putting items for sale on top of a blanket, which these vendors can scoop up in a flash and dash away dash away dash away all at the first sign of any approaching police. This is because it is illegal for them to sell on the sidewalk without a license, and because they are most likely selling things that are illegal: knockoff purses, CD or DVD copies, and such. And for that matter, many of the vendors themselves might be illegal immigrants, too.

What's the difference between being an expat or an immigrant? Choice? Opportunity?:
Here you can see the Senegalese street vendors shown in the movie Biutiful,
selling knockoff purses near Las Ramblas.

This practice of top manta is common throughout Spain, though only really happens in those areas with heavy tourist traffic. One of the things I've always wondered about when I see illegal street vendors is how they manage to sell their things out in the open, despite the fact that there are cops around. In Biutiful, the answer is that cop corruption, paying off the cops on the beat, allows these Subsaharan immigrants time to sell their top manta items around Las Ramblas without worry, or to be tipped off when the police are going to do a sting. The argument is, in other words, that "we" all know that these guys are doing this, but "we" look the other way until we (as in society) decide we need a scapegoat to point to for our social ills and immigrant woes. This social reality of the life of these immigrants as street vendors was recently the subject of a really interesting play in Madrid, "La manta no es mi sueño" (Street vending is not my dream). Americans will recognize in this social issue all the trappings of a similar discomfort that we feel in the U.S. about illegal immigrants working all kinds of jobs that we deem immoral or undesirable and yet at the same time socially condone through our purchases or hiring practices.

Whatever you might have to say about top manta, these guys, "un gorrilla,"
bother me much, much more. They're the guys (often not immigrants) who stand
around parking lots waiting to signal to drivers where to park, and then expect
a tip in exchange, even though the park space itself is free and public! It's a total racket! 

I'll confess I'm always impressed by the top manta vendors. In a way, they are the ultimate entrepreneurs with some serious odds against them. And they are easy targets for anti-piracy laws since they are right there physically selling the illegally copied DVDs. Not like the MegaUpload figures, whose sites account for much more piracy, and whose owners or creators live in a more ethereal world where it is easier to evade persecution prosecution. The issue of Spain and illegal downloads could be the subject of many more posts. Let me just wrap up here with a teaser. ("Let me 'splain. No... There's too much. Let me sum up.")... Spain has been grappling since 2010 with "la ley Sinde", a law named for the now former Minister of Culture, Ángeles González Sinde, intended to tighten up and strengthen sanctions on all the web piracy going on here. (If you didn't know, for the moment it is _not_ illegal for someone to download a pirated movie in Spain. It is only legal to upload and/or sell them.) This has been Spain's SOPA. And Spain's "Asociación de Internautas", supported by the unlikely likes of people such as Álex de la Iglesia (who split publicly with Spain's Film Academy over this very issue early last year), has been battling to protect Spaniards and their internet rights from the protectionists interventionist interests of Hollywood who complains it can't make a buck here...

But that is another story... What I'm really trying to say is that you should download a copy of see Buitiful. It's really good. And it will start to give you an idea of all the complicated ways that Spain is changing and grappling with its local identities in a globalized world.

January 23, 2012

Paquito El Xocolatero: Or how to compile a soundtrack for Fallas

Or maybe I should subtitle this "Pasodoble, the other famous style of Spanish music". Contrary to what many a ignorant naive guiri may think, flamenco is not the only native music style in Spain. Pasodoble, the music beat and the dance step, is based on the music played during a bullfighter's entrance into a bullfight ("el paseo") or played during the passes ("faena") just before the kill. Can you get more Spanish than that? Because of its "duple meter" (two-beat) march-like rhythm, many popular marching songs for Fallas are pasodobles.

And my personal favorite Valencian pasodoble classic is "Paquito el Xocolatero" (the "x" in Catalan is pronounced like "ch" here). The song was composed in the 1930s, to be played for the Moros y Cristianos festival in Alcoy, but over the years it has become popular to play for parades all throughout Spain, and is one of several commonly played songs during the Valencia Fallas festivities. 

I've never been, but I hear Moros y Cristianos, the setting for Paquito El Xocolatero,
is spectacular. And don't be fooled by the Christians conquering Moors theme.
Apparently, according to my mother-in-law who's from a town nearby, everyone
usually wants to be a Moor because they dress so much cooler.

It was made even more famous when Els Pavesos covered it. Els Pavesos was a group formed by Joan Monleón and others from the Falla no. 50 Corretgeria - Bany dels Pavesos in the early 1970s. Els Pavesos created popular albums based on traditional songs played during Fallas. Joan Monleón, who must have been quite a colorful character, became a fixture on local TV with his own show.

Joan Monleón as seen with his famous "paella rusa" on his TV show,
which he would spin much like a "ruleta rusa" (Russian roulette).
A Valencian political blogger has taken up Monleón's paella rusa
for the title of his quite successful blog.

When Monleón passed away in 2010, Valencians left a variety of homenajes to him,
including him in a Falla (on the left) and drawing a street mural (on the right). 

For your entertainment, I embed a version of "Paquito el Xocolatero" as sung by Els Pavesos, with the lyrics below:

                            Paquito "El Xocolatero":               

Paquito "El Xocolatero"                 Paquito the "Chocolate-maker"
és un home molt formal                 is a very serious man
quan arriba la Festa                       who, when the festival starts,
va sempre molt colocat.                 always gets really high.*

Es posa el vestit de Festa             He dresses up in the festival outfit
el puro, café-licor                          [with] the cigar, [and] "café-licor" liquor [in hand],**
i se'n va per la filà                         and heads to the "filà" marching line***
per oblidar-se de tot.                      in order to forget about all else.

(tornada)                                      (chorus)

Pels carrers va desfilant                Through the streets they go marching
entre plomes i colors                     among the plumes/feathers and colors
el poble se'n va entregant              and the town gets [even more] motivated
a la gràcia d'aquest home              because of the charming enthusiasm of this man
que sap com ningú ballar.              who knows how to dance like no one else.
Pels carrers va desfilant.               Through the streets they go marching.

I quan acaba la Festa                    And when the party ends
L'endemà s'en va a la fàbrica         the next day he'll go back to the factory
i es posa a treballar                       and he'll dress for work.
Cantueso i Herbero                       [Drinking] "Cantueso" and "Herbero"****
per a poder-ho aguantar                so as to be able to endure it.
fins que torne nostra Festa            Until the return of our Festival
tan Valenciana, tan popular.          so Valencian, so popular [of the people].

(bis)                                             (encore)

Pels carrers va desfilant                Through the streets they go marching
entre plomes i colors                     among the plumes and colors
el poble se'n va entregant              and the town goes surrendering
a la gràcia d'aquest home              in thanks to this man
que sap com ningú ballar.              who knows how to dance like no one else.
En la Festa Valenciana                 In the Valencian festival
tan Valenciana, tan popular.          so Valencian, so popular.

     *Trans. note: high on life, not necessarily in the sense of drunk or high on drugs
     **A classic type of liquor from Alcoy
     ***A filà is the marching group and formation of people in the Moros y Cristianos festival of Alcoy
     ****Two types of liquor made from distilling flowers with herbs (and with grain alcohol), both made in Alicante;      Herbero, for example, is made from aromatic plants that grow in the Sierra de Mariola region right next to Alcoy

You can see the charm of this song for falleros. They spend all year at their mundane jobs, passing much of their free-time and weekends raising money for the Casal or preparing next season's Falla. So when Fallas finally does come round, they let loose like Paquito here, drink a ton, dance a ton. It's their moment!

Falleras and falleros on their way to L'ofrenda to the Virgin, most likely accompanied
by a band playing traditional pasodoble songs like Paquito El Xocolatero.

Disclaimer: To like this kind of music is kind of like being a fan of "Dixie Land" in the States, which is to say, it is associated with a certain worldview and politics that, were you born in Spain, you might want to distance yourself from. Falleros tend to be more conservative and close-minded provincial, and, indeed, are likely to be those Valencians who regularly spearhead the irritating misguided efforts to declare Valenciano a distinct language from Catalan. My wife asks me to please not sing this song out loud in public, and, upon declaring my love of this Fallas music one day in Valenciano class, one of my classmates asked me whether I was sure "this was the kind of Valencian culture I wanted to associate myself with". Sometimes ignorance is bliss, and here it is worth playing the guiri card. I think this song is truly great, both melodically and lyrically. 

Some of the more traditional bands might be
playing the "dolçaina" flute i "tabal" drum,
traditional instruments of Valencia
If you agree, then I can recommend you some other classic songs of Fallas, which you can start downloading from here to create your own Fallas soundtrack. (Think of this music as being the equivalent to John Philip Sousa for the 4th of July.) A few of my personal favorites: La manta al coll, Valencia (yes, this is the song that everyone hears sung, "Valencia, es la tierra de las flores, de la luz y del amor, Valencia..."), Amparito la filla del mestre. These are more examples of pasodoble songs which you are likely to here falleros marching to come this March.

January 20, 2012

Paella Valenciana: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

I love this mural by Valencian street-artist Escif,
featuring paella valenciana's two main meats,
chicken and rabbit.
As I've mentioned in a previous blog entry, I've grown to acquire the Valencians' sense of pride as well as profound irritation with all the misunderstanding out there surrounding this region's signature rice dishes, and above all, paella valenciana. I recently contributed a series of entries on my mother-in-law's classic paella valenciana recipe to The Spain Scoop, and in the process discovered some egregious examples of "paella valenciana" (in scare quotes) floating around out there in the blogosphere and worldwide web.

Consider this post my effort to clear up the record and call out some erroneous ideas out there about paella, what's in it, and where it's from...

• The Good:

It's my blog, so you'll have to forgive my pretension for listing  my mother-in-law's version here among the good versions of paella valenciana, but her recipe really is great, and follows the guidelines of the recent informal denominación de origen conferred on paella valenciana. If you haven't already, I encourage you to take a moment and review those three entries at The Spain Scoop:

My mother-in-law makes paella valenciana like a pro.

1) "How To Make My Mother-in-law's Valencian Paella – Part 1": In part 1, I outline the basic components of the dish, listing the ingredients you will need while sketching out some of the common misconceptions about the dish and what is used to prepare it.

To quote one newspaper, "El ADN del plato autóctono" [The DNA of the native plate (paella valenciana)] is: Aceite [Vegetable oil], Pollo [Chicken], Conejo [Rabbit], "Ferraura" (bajoqueta) [a local green bean], "Garrafó" [a local white bean], Tomate, Agua [Water], Sal [Salt], Azafrán [Safron], Arroz [the local Valencian rice]"

2) "How To Make My Mother-in-law's Valencian Paella – Part 2": This second entry is probably the most useful of the three – where I layout instructions on how to prepare and cook all the ingredients, to actually make a paella valenciana.

3) "How To Make My Mother-in-law's Paella Valenciana – Part 3": And here I wrap it up by describing how it is served, and how Valencian's love the crusted burnt layer of rice at the bottom of the paella pan, known as "socarrat".

Mmmmmm... socarrat!

I've seen a few expats and Americans who have managed to accurately recreate this dish, so you don't have to be a card-carrying Valencian to do so. Fellow Valencia expat blogger, Leftbanker, posted a picture of what is undeniably authentic paella valenciana on his blog not long ago. (He particularly won me over with this hilarious rant about the English-speaker's tendency to mispronounce "paella".) My Kitchen in Spain, Janet Mendel's fun culinary blog, creatively plays around with the paella recipe on her blog, though she's careful never to mislabel it "paella valenciana", so I don't hold it against her. And Mendel says that you can find the authentic recipe for paella valenciana in her book, My Kitchen in Spain (2002). (I'll have to trust her, since I don't own it. Hint, hint, Janet. Gift idea?)

However, it is very hard to make the _real_ paella valenciana well if you live outside of Spain, since the fresh staples that form the base of this dish aren't grown outside the Valencian province.

Judging by appearances, Leftbanker's paella looked pretty "auténtica" to me.

The real secret to making an excellent paella valenciana is visiting or living in
Valencia where you have access to all the fresh regional ingredients,
at places like this, Valencia's fantastic Mercat Central.

I'm not lying when I say that I don't mind people having a little fun with paella-making.
One of my longtime favorite Valencia bloggers, Paella de Kimchi, made this Valencia-Korea
fusion paella de kimchi
. Experimental fun aside, you can tell from this recipe that these
bloggers really know their stuff when it comes to preparing a paella, traditional or not.

• The Bad:

But in preparing blog entries on paella and Valencian rice dishes I have begun to uncover what I believe are the two main sources of many of the erroneous "paellas valencianas" circulating online and especially among the foreign expats and tourists.

Source of confusion 1: An easy tip off as to whether they've messed up the paella recipe. There is no traditional paella (valenciana or otherwise) which has any of the ingredients found in that other classic Valencian rice dish, arroz al horno, such as: costillas de cerdo (pork ribs... or really any kind of pork), morcilla, potato, garlic, chickpeas. If you find any of these ingredients call the local officials immediately you know that the chef is dazed and confused about the traditions of paella-making.
Lesson: Just because it's paella, it's traditional, and it's traditionally from Valencia, doesn't mean it's traditional "paella valenciana". I think a lot of people are confusing the ingredients which appear in other traditional Valencian rice dishes with fair-game paella ingredients, and are maybe also thinking that paella de marisco, a very traditional Valencian paella, is _the_ "paella valenciana"... which it is not.

Never confuse arroz al horno with paella, much less paella valenciana. This _other_ typical Valencian
rice dish is made with a "cazuela" clay pot, and _does_ have pork ribs and chickpeas in it. Paella does not.

"La corrucion, como la paella en ningun sitio, se hace como en Valencia." Translated,
ignoring spelling errors: "Corruption, like paella, in no place do they make it like in Valencia."

Source of confusion 2: Outside the Valencian province, some other paellas have appeared which day-tripping tourists to Spain have understandably taken to be the "auténtico" thing, but which are also far from traditional Valencian dishes. For any fans of "paella mixta" (Madrid's mixed meat, both seafood and chicken, version of the paella dish), or to those of you from Castellón who want to put red pepper in your paella, fine! Do it! Just don't call it "paella valenciana," which it is not. I'm a believer in culinary innovation (here I depart ways with many of my more hardcore Valencian readers), but these bastardizations variations on Valencia's paellas would turn the nose of any Valencian.
LessonPaella, and particularly paella valenciana, is from the Valencian Province, not Catalonia, not Castellón or Alicante, in a way, not even "from Spain". And it is a simple dish, without bells and whistles. If you eat or make any other kind, be polite to Valencian pride and heritage and call it something else.

"Paella mixta," the scourge of Valencia pride. This blogger, Chow Times, faced two common pitfalls of
eating paella outside of Valencia (in this case in Barcelona)
: 1) encountering this untraditional
"mixed" paella, which blends chicken meat with shellfish, bizarre!, a combination that would offend
any Valencian, and 2) soggy rice. (Noooooooo!) Reading this entry broke my heart,
when they wrote, "all Chinese don’t like soggy rice". Well, when it's paella, neither do Valencians!

This paella, with red peppers, presents a more delicate political problem. This is a
traditional paella recipe in Castellón. It is not "paella valenciana", but since Castellón
is in the Comunidad Valenciana, many from this region were upset when the official
paella valenciana recipe excluded red peppers
. All I can say to them is, again,
there is a difference between the recipe paella valenciana and paella "from Valencia"!

I'm a bit mystified by this "Paella catalana". For starters, there is no traditional dish in Spain
called "paella catalana". Second, judging from the recipes listed at the link where I found this
photo, these are variations on paella de marisco (one of many Valencian paellas). Third,
this kind of lobster (bogavante) is not traditionally put in paella, but rather arroz meloso or arroz caldoso.

• The Ugly:

But where things get ugly is the use of the term "paella valenciana" to sell any and every kind of fried rice dish abroad. One point of confusion is that there is a "paella caribeña" recipe floating out there. I don't know where it was originally from, or how traditional it is, but it is often sold in the States with the title "Spanish paella", which it is not. Why? Well, first and foremost because it uses regular white rice. And this leads to the other serious infraction in the States: the mistaken idea that making "Spanish fried rice" or "saffron rice" is all it takes to call something "paella". No! You need to use the special Valencian round-grain rice to make it (i.e. arroz bomba, as in 'Arroz de Valencia' or even the Murcian Calasparra). (And, no, you can't just substitute the completely different Italian Arborio rice, used in risotto!) Perhaps you once had the excuse in the States that it was hard to find "arroz bomba", but with LaTienda.com such is no longer the case.

From what I've seen in the States and online, paella caribeña appears to be
a seafood-style fried rice dish with peas. But the two things which mark it as
_very_ un-Valencian: 1) it is usually loaded with ingredients, drowning out the rice
and simplicity, and 2) it uses long-grain rice instead of the special round Spanish variety.

Socarrat's peculiar paella menu.
As I said at the start, in my online searches I ran across a lot of tragically hilarious faux pas paellas of fancy U.S. restaurants or catering services claiming to sell "paella valenciana" and yet even the most cursory glance can tell you it was a serious screw up of the region's most famous dish. For example, the fancy New York City "paella bar" (whatever that is) called Socarrat in Chelsea lists some bizarre paellas on its menu. Again, I have no complaints about mixing it up and innovating, so I was keeping an open-minded about them as I read their menu (though I've never heard of eggplant in a paella). Until I saw it, the "Valenciana"... with pork ribs and asparagus. Yikes!

And I'm not sure what to say to well-meaning culinary bloggers who, in their misinformation and sloppiness, put up recipes for "Paella Valencia" with chorizo in it, or ones that put up a correct meat recipe for "Paella Valenciana" but for some reason post a picture of paella de marisco (?). It is thanks to these many bloggers and recipe posters that a google image search of "paella valenciana" turns up a lot of junk false, baroque misrepresentations of Valencia's simple, humble dish.
Lesson: In Valencia, where people eat paella all the time, there is a kind of unspoken law of minimalism, put the minimal amount of ingredients to give it a flavor, but don't cover the pan edge to edge with ingredients. The idea is not to crowd out the rice when you're adding ingredients, because the rice is the protagonist.
But do you wanna get a Valencian _really_ mad? Point them to this American (San Diego based) catering website: Paella Valenciana, Paella Catering You Can Trust. Yes, folks! The company that has managed to corner the online domain name for "paella valenciana dot com" is selling the world's biggest fake for paella valenciana!!! Here I quote for you the caption under their menu entry for the dish:
Paella Valenciana is a very popular succulent mix of paella with fresh chicken, sea-food and vegetables. You can customize your paella choice with your choice of shrimp, calamari, mussels, clams, scallops, crab claws, fish and lobster. 
Where does one start when tearing apart critiquing this? (Well, with the obvious, that the dish doesn't have sea-food in it.) But I'm confused by what they mean when they say paella valenciana is a mix of paella _with_ those ingredients. Paella _is_ those ingredients, plus rice and some other things. And how American of them is it to offer tailor-made paellas valencianas. Don't consider this a gripe. I'm just howling with laughter at the utter disregard Americans can give to European traditions and importance placed on authenticity, even as they are capitalizing off the mystique of European traditions and history.

You guys call this "Paella Valenciana"!!! Are you kidding me?
How did you get the license for this domain name?

So let's making this shaming process an official game. I hereby offer you the "Paella Hall of Shame". If you find a picture, recipe, restaurant, or website online that is perpetuating these preposterous paellas, make a comment here with a linkback to it. In turn, if you are one of the shamed and have changed your evil ways, post here, and I promise I will remove the link or mention of you.

***UPDATE: I've discovered a whole community of people living in Madrid who are annoyed with all these poser paellas out there... and they've started a web project calling them out! Check out La Comunidad de la Paella if you're looking for a good place to have paella in Spain's capital, because there aren't as many as you would think!***

The Paella Hall of Shame:
How to cook Paella - Gordon Ramsay Recipe [finder credits to Leftbanker]
• Paella Valenciana, Paella Catering You Can Trust (San Diego, U.S.A.)
• Socarrat Paella Bar (NYC, U.S.A.)
LaPaella.co.uk (Aberdeen, U.K.) [Again, claims prime URL real estate but then confuse paella mixta with "paella valenciana"... And _broccoli_ in the vegetable paella? I've never heard of that. Unwitting finder credits to GoSpain.About.Com on its "History of Paella" entry]
Antonio Banderas's Paella [which in 2011 caused a scandal in Valencia for its use of chorizo, among other very unorthodox ingredients] (Here on Univisión he says the secret to paella is "el sofrito", but then lists some bizarre ingredients ... Though in fairness, he states here in a Brazilian show that "Es la paella mía" and not the "valenciana" ... judging from his accounts, it's a paella mixta with substitutions that apparently Banderas finds in Chinatown markets.)
• Awesome 1960s German TV program sings how to make "Paella de Valencia" a.k.a. "paella valenciana"... I can't even count the number of mistakes in their recipe. But who cares? The song is priceless!!!

January 16, 2012

Guest Post: Chic Soufflé on Valencia as a Modern Consumerist's City

Good taste is a difficult thing to have or acquire, but an invaluable attribute in the modern consumer society. Today I'm inviting a very good friend and fellow Valencia blogger, Chic Soufflé, to provide you a consumerist's geography of Valencia, a roadmap if you will. I follow her blog avidly—it being a blend of musings on international fashion and design trends and cross-cultural (US-Spain) exchange—knowing that it will always be in good taste.
Chic Soufflé's blog, "an eclectic mix of fashion, gastronomy and art. Why not?"

In the last year or so, Valencia has seemingly had a consumerist revival, with the grand opening of 3 (of my favorite) international stores. It is the third largest city in Spain, and one where it feels like shoppers never stop shopping. (Crisis, what crisis?) For those of you who are not familiar with the “shopping layout” of the city —I’m not talking about malls—, I will attempt to give you some tips on how to shop til you drop.

Valencia's new Apple Store on Colón
Probably the most well known shopping area in the city is Calle Colón. The area on and around this major street includes a couple of locations of the ubiquitous department store El Corte Inglés (not the only ones in the city), plus a good assortment of franchises and brands popular in Spain. Here you can get your fix of Inditex stores (Zara, Massimo Dutti, Oysho, Uterqüe, Pull and Bear, Stradivarius), or other Spanish classic fashion stores like Mango, as well as the popular H&M, shoe brand stores like Camper, cosmetic stores like The Body Shop, jewelry stores like Tous, etc. It is also on this street where at the end of 2011 two of my favorite stores, Muji and Appleopened. I’m sure all of you know Apple and there’s not much I can say there that will be news to you, but if you don’t know the Japanese store Muji, I recommend you stop by to check out what I can only describe as minimalistic and pragmatic merchandise (and travel-conscious!)

Elegant Japanese design at Muji

Uterqüe, higher end of the Inditex stores

Around Calle Colón there’s a small area of pedestrian shopping streets packed with stores, cafés, and restaurants. One of them is Pasaje de Ruzafa, where the lovely British store Lush opened in 2010 (yay!). They have amazing handmade cosmetic products (their bath bubble bars and soaps are to-die-for), so I recommend a shopping stop here if only to smell their products.

Delicious smelling bath salts from Lush

Right on the other side of Colón, beginning with—and centering around—Calle Jorge Juan, there is an area of smaller boutiques and brand name stores as well as a nice pit stop for the weary shopper, the Mercado de Colón. This beautiful historic building now hosts cafés and restaurants on their ground floor, a perfect open space to take a break from the busy Colón area. 

El Mercado de Colón at dusk

It’s around Jorge Juan where you can find more exclusive boutiques, and some Spanish designer names, but also international brand stores like the classic American Kiehl’s or the French furniture and design store Habitat. This last one is actually located in a very cute galleria called Galería de Jorge Juan. And around this area, you can also find some of the best pastelerías to buy fancy and delicious cakes and pastries, such as Monplá or La Rosa de Jericó. There is also one of Cacao Sampaka’s fine chocolate shops nearby, highly recommended for chocoholics. And if you are missing American cupcakes, do not worry, in the last few years they have become really popular and are popping up everywhere in Spain. Here there are a couple of chains that serve this sweet treat, among them the local Cupcake Valencia

Old and new pastry shops: La Rosa de Jericó (left), Cupcake Valencia (right)

Cacao Sampaka

Having covered one of my favorite shopping areas, it is now time to switch directions and go towards the small pedestrian Calle Don Juan de Austria. By the main exit of the Colón metro and one of the El Corte Inglés buildings, this street has mostly shoe and clothing stores, but also another shopping galleria, the Galería Don Juan de Austria, and a couple of international cosmetic stores, Sephora and L’Occitane. And of course, it’s yet another place to find the Inditex usual suspects, but hosts other popular Spanish clothing stores like Blanco. If you are hungry, visit Bar Casa Mundo, one of the famous places in town to stop for tapas and their famous bocadillo de calamares (OK, maybe not the best anymore, but certainly a classic).

Pedestrian shopping street of Don Juan de Austria

At the end of this street, crossing the Calle de las Barcas, is Calle Poeta Querol or, what some of us refer to jokingly as the “Valencian golden mile” (la milla de oro) because a lot of the luxury brands have stores on or around this street. Unlike in other cities, our so-called “golden mile” is not in one of the city’s avenues, but instead on quite a small street that does not get as much foot traffic. I guess that’s because if you can afford to shop in these stores, you know where they are and just go there, but it’s interesting that there’s not a lot of window-shopping in this area. You will find international designer names such as Louis Vuitton, Bulgari, Hugo Boss or Salvatore Ferragamo, and Spanish designers like Loewe or Purificación García. The famous (and the only international) Valencian porcelain company Lladró has a store on Poeta Querol. But there are also moderately priced stores on this street, for example Intermón (the Intermón-Oxfam store) or Nespresso (if you like coffee you probably have heard of this company—the store looks expensive but the coffee is not!) This streets ends at Calle de la Paz, which also has some designer (Carolina Herrera) and jewelry stores.

Loewe storefront on a corner of Poeta Querol

Fine ceramic gifts made by Valencia's Lladró

In the old city, there is a hipper area where you can find plenty of restaurants and bars, and that comes alive at night. Barrio del Carmen is an excellent place to go out for dinner or drinks, but you can also do some cool shopping that you can’t find elsewhere. One of my favorite clothing boutiques is called Envinarte Fusión, on Calle Serranos. They also own a wine shop two doors down on the same street with an excellent variety of national and international wines. I like the clothing store Monki and, although not technically in El Carmen, but in El Mercat neighborhood, Bugalú is a fun place to score some cooler accessories and clothing items. But the list of places is definitely longer than this, and it’s worth walking around the narrow streets of this old neighborhood to discover them.

Plaza del Tossal, one of many quaint plazas in El Carmen
great for taking a break from boutique shopping

Inside Envinarte Fusión

Oh my, how I’ve gone on! And I haven’t even mentioned another neighborhood that has in the last few years really taken off: Russafa! I encourage you to explore it, because it deserves another whole post. Great restaurants, great bars, and some very special shopping too. 

Future pursuits... the Russafa neighborhood runs along the
east side of the North Train Station tracks

It’s been fun writing about my city, and I hope this mini shopping guide has been helpful!

You might also like:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...