Reliable sources seem to credit Arabs introducing rice to Spain between the 8th & 10th centuries. It did not acquire importance in Spain or the rest of the continent until the Arabs firmly implanted it in the Iberian peninsula in 711. However, there is an alternate notion that rice reached Spain much earlier through Byzantium in the 6th century.
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.
Thirteen centuries later, it is no secret that Spanish rice is a fixture in the Spanish diet. In the present day scenario, all it takes is a single glance at a Spanish menu to draw a conclusion there is a whole lot of rice varieties to choose from. 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.
This grain is strongly ingrained in Spanish culture. When it comes to rice in Spain, even the sky ceases to be the limit. There are endless possibilities for this grain in Spanish cooking and kitchen and you will be amazed to know how well the results are. In Spain, it is not an oddity 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, although some varieties are traditionally linked to certain regions within, especially across the Mediterranean coast. Of these, Paella is the most well-known dish by all means, which is typical of Valencia, where a lot of Paella variations could be found as well; vegetable, 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.
It is significant to know that rice is not only enjoyed as a main dish, as it could also be enjoyed 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 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.