Figuring out how to eat paella

Abigail Summerville
November 15, 2017

We weaved through the hanging scarves and bowls of spices of the outdoor vendors to reach our final destination of the day and appease our growling stomachs. I had designed the perfect “authentic” Barcelona day for my visiting friends, but it wasn’t exactly going as planned. We had just watched the magic fountain and light show at the Palau Nacional in Montjuic and were so excited to get a front row view of the main fountain—until we realized we were in the splash zone. Now, we were half-damp and wandering around in the dark to find Portonovo Silvestre, a paella restaurant nearby. Soon enough, we were being ushered into the restaurant’s back dining room, and I was surprised to find myself in a nearly empty room of white table clothed tables and a waiter who was actually waiting on us—a rare occurrence amid the unhurried lifestyle of this city.

An order for pitchers of sangria was immediately put in, and then we surveyed our paella options. We made the obvious choice: paella mixta, which included vegetables, seafood and chicken. We ordered a pan for four, as there were four of us, but when the waiter appeared with the pan of paella, it looked as if it could feed a village. He set the glowing metal pan down in the center of the table and plumes of steam rose up around us, hiding our wide eyes at the huge portion size from each other.

After the steam dissipated, I took my first bite. Moist rice and warm, creamy vegetables filled my mouth, but then I bit down on something hard. I carefully pulled out a tiny shell from the inside of my cheek—a mussel. I cracked it open delicately to find the soft inside and popped it in my mouth. I didn’t even have to chew the small piece of tasteless goo.

Murmurs of how to eat the shrimp reached my ears and I declared that I would make the first attempt. At first, I tediously tried to peel of the hard shell, but I was left with only the tiniest bit of meaty shrimp insides to eat. I scooped another shrimp onto my plate and, without thinking too much, took a crunchy bite. I slowly chewed the film of shrimp skin with a scowl on my face, but soon the warm, shrimpy center overpowered my taste buds and I was satisfied.

I realized that there’s really no way to gracefully eat paella. You cannot eat it in rhythmic spoonfuls because you have to pull apart mussels, stealthily pick chicken bones out of your mouth and cut up pieces of shrimp. It really is an ordeal. However, somehow my friends and I ended up making a sizeable dent in the enormous pan over the course of two hours. And after we paid the check, we were all stumbling through the vendors again, satisfyingly clutching our strained stomachs.

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Abigail Summerville

<p>I'm excited to meet local people who have lived in Barcelona their whole lives who can tell me all about it- the history, culture, food, architecture, and the best places to visit. I'm also excited to meet the other students in the program and make lasting friendships. And I LOVE adventures, and can't wait to travel around Spain and to other countries as well.</p>

2017 Fall
Home University:
Washington and Lee University
Arlington, VA
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