Saturday, September 11, 2010

All Spice, No Bull

Magnet # 339: Spanish Paella

Material: Resin, Pewter

Purchased By: Me

Break out the paella, because today, Spain celebrates! Yep, in the Spanish Autonomous Community of Catalonia, September 11 is a big deal. It dates back to 1714, when on that day, the city of Barcelona was forced to surrender to French and Castilian soldiers following a 13-month siege. The conflict had broken out between the powers as part of the War of Spanish Succession. After Charles II, the final Spanish monarch of the House of Habsburg, passed in 1700 without fathering a child, he left control of his kingdom in the hands of Philip, the grandson of his-half sister and Louis XIV of France. This connection between the two powers of France and Spain proved to be too much for both citizens of Spain and other European nations, who feared a shift in the balance of power. And when Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor, asserted an Austrian Habsburg claim over the Spanish throne, tensions evolved into a full-scale war. England, Portugal, and the Dutch Republic were the major nations that united to keep French expansion in check, while parts of Spain split in civil war. Early on, the capitol city of Catalonia, Barcelona, fell to forces supporting Habsburg Archduke Charles, and they therefore backed his claim to the throne. This brought the Franco-Spanish forces to their door, but they were not strong enough initially to take the city down. But when reinforcements of more than 20,000 soldiers arrived, it was over for Barcelona. After forces entered the city, they surrendered. And when Philip V took the throne, Catalonia was punished by having their autonomy and rights stripped for over two centuries. In 1980, they were finally restored, and the first public act of the new government was to proclaim September 11 National Day of Catalonia, in remembrance of their loss so many years ago.

Many consider the dish paella, which is featured on this magnet, to be the national dish of Spain. That's not completely true - to the Spanish, it's more limited to the Autonomous Community of Valencia, which borders Catalonia. But it is certainly popular in Catalonia, whose language gave the mixture its name. In Catalan, paella means pan and since the mixture is cooked in a pan, the name stuck. There all sorts of varieties of paella, but the three most popular are Valencia paella, seafood paella, and mixed paella. Nearly all kinds of the dish feature rice, saffron, and olive oil. The meat that's added can vary from chicken, rabbit, and duck to shrimp, mussels, and lobster - sometimes, beans may be added in place of meat. And all sorts of vegetables can be included - tomatoes, peas, bell peppers, you name it. It's a dish that both the poor and the rich can dine on, and its popularity has persisted for centuries. My mom loves paella, but I wasn't too fond of it when I tried it years ago. It's weird, I'm not a big fan of rice (except in sushi), so that might be it. Or maybe it was the saffron. But I think next time I come across paella, I'll give it a try nonetheless. You never know, maybe my tastes have changed over the years and I'll like it next time. After all, millions of Spanish can't be wrong, can they? And even though paella is more a dish of Valencia, plenty in Catalonia will still enjoy it as part of their revelries today, like in the municipality of Cornudella de Montsant, where they prepare a giant dish of seafood paella, big enough for the entire community. Sounds like a pretty fun time. But I do know there will be at least one Spanish activity left out of the celebration today - bullfighting. Catalonia was the first major region in Spain to ban the sport earlier this year, and some have claimed this has more to do with wanting to put themselves apart from the rest of the nation than animal rights. Okay, there might still be some fights in the area - the ban doesn't take effect until 2012. But I guess this recent change will have some effect on this year's National Day of Catalonia festivities.

And yes, I do realize that today in the United States, we remember those who perished on September 11 of 2001. I had a magnet ready to post, but realized I simply didn't have much else to say other than what I'd said last year. I wish the families of those who perished the best and I hope better times are in store for our country and the rest of the world.


  1. GREAT magnet - it makes me want to have some paella right now. I'm going to Barcelona next year and am wondering how it will compare to the Barcelona of Franco's time (the last time I was there).

  2. Yep, I was thrilled when I found it in Ybor City, Florida, of all places. Have fun on your trip - I hope the paella is even better than you remember!