It is no secret that rice is a fixture in the Spanish diet. All one has to do is glance at a Spanish menu to realise that rice is an intrinsic part of the cuisine. Rice is absolutely vital to the country's culture, economy and people, which perhaps could also be attributed to Spain being the second-largest rice producer in Europe.
Research credits Arabs for introducing rice to Spain between the 8th & 10th centuries. The first known large rice fields in Europe and specifically Spain were planted by the inhabitants of Al-Andalus in the river deltas of the Guadiana & Guadalquivir.
Around the 10th century, rice was grown along the Spanish eastern coast areas like Valencia’s Albufera and the municipalities of Catarroja, Sueca, Ruzafa & Silla. By the 11th century, as a result of population growth, plantations expanded & irrigation systems improved drastically. The influx of Andalusís who had migrated from down south was another contributing factor.
This grain is strongly ingrained in Spanish culture. There are endless possibilities for this grain in Spanish cooking and kitchen. It is not an oddity in the country to go out and feast on ‘un ruzzo’ or simply a plate of rice. It is usually intended to share- these dishes are for two.
Nowadays, you can sample most of the wide range of rice dishes about anywhere in Spain. However, some varieties are traditionally linked to certain regions within, especially across the Mediterranean coast. Of these, Paella is the most well-known dish and is typical of Valencia/ Here several variations of can be found including vegetables, seafood, mixed et cetera.
Some other popular rice dishes include arroz en caldero (creamy rice) that goes with alioli (kind of a garlic mayonnaise). Arroz el horno is another popular rice dish that’s cooked in an oven in an earthenware casserole. Arroz a banda makes the list too, which involves rice getting cooked in a previously made fish stock. Arroz con constra features the list too and as the name suggests it is rather popular due to the crust formed by the baked egg yolk on top.
Then, there is arroz negro (black rice) that is named after the unique colour the squid ink imparts it during its preparation. Interestingly, rice is not only enjoyed as a main dish but also as a starter, in sopa de picadillo soup, a classic dish of Andalusia or as a dessert, the most famous of which happens to be the rice pudding, originally from Asturias, where the rice is cooked to form a delicious cream with hints of vanilla, lemon, cinnamon & caramel.
To put things into perspective, it is important to know there are rice types as well with the designation of origin label which vouches for their quality and distinct characteristics and rice production in certain areas such as Valencia Rice, grown in the area around the Albufera nature reserve in Valencia, Ebro Delta Rice, from Tarragona, and Calasparra Rice, which is produced in Murcia and Albacete.
Spanish gastronomy is famous throughout the world, and rice is one of its most delicious dishes. Let your taste buds tell you why.