The oldest gastronomic competition in Spain was able to take place again this year. Because last year it was interrupted due to the corona pandemic. However, in this 60 + 1 edition, the event once again succeeded in bringing together numerous national and international representatives of gastronomy.
And the winner is…
The best paella in the world is prepared in the Madrid region, at the ‘El Madrileño’ restaurant in Guadarrama. Chefs Óscar de la Fuente and Javier Hernández’s paella was cooked over a wood fire. Consequently, they won €2,500, and it is already being called one of the best paellas in history. The visibly happy cooks took over the title from the winner of the previous edition, David Domingo of the Fuente Cerrada restaurant in Teruel.
Furthermore, the other two podium places went to Arrossos per emportar Pepi (Alcàsser) and Restaurante Tabick Lounge-Arrosos i Brases (Llombai).
In the category ‘Best National Paella’, El Trato Gastrobar in Madrid won. And within the Valencia region, the honor went to the restaurant La Arrocería de la Mejillonera, in Benidorm. The best local paella chef in Sueca this year was restaurant Fernandet. Also, the award for the best international paella went to restaurant El Coraloense, from Bell Gardens, in the United States.
A 60-year battle for the title
The International Valencian Paella Competition has been organised since 1961, following the rise of tourism and the emergence of other gastronomic competitions. In 1961, Sueca celebrated the 600th anniversary of the ‘Troballa de la Mare de Déu’ and the mayor at the time took the opportunity to create a festival dedicated to paella. Thus, the ‘rice festival’ was born. Initially, only a national paella competition was organised. Since 1987, chefs from the Valencia region have been collaborating in organising the event, now led by Jesus Melero (chef of the RI-RA restaurant in Sueca).
Since 1990, participants from the rest of Europe, America and Japan have also been allowed to register. Once the foreign participation was approved, the official recipe of the Paella Valenciana from Sueca received the seal of approval “original recipe” and the event was declared a festival of international tourist interest.
The birth of paella
The Moors brought rice cultivation to Spain in the 8th century. They started growing rice near the freshwater lake of Albufera, now a protected natural park, 20 kilometres south of the city of Valencia. The locals soon devised a simple stew based on this rice, which they combined with vegetables, herbs, chicken and rabbit. Everything ended up in one gigantic pan or ‘paellera’ and was stewed on charcoal. Later, more variants of paella were created, such as the one with shellfish.
Grown into a tradition in Spain
However, with time, Valencian paella became much more than just a dish. It has become a tradition, family recipes have been passed down for generations. Therefore, eating it is a social event. Today, three types of rice are grown in the region of Valencia, which bear the protected designation of origin ‘Arroz de Valencia’. World Paella Day is celebrated annually on 20 September, with activities and tastings around the world.
Read more: Valencia recommends paella as national cultural heritage