Everyone knows that Spain has sangria, flamenco, mega clubs and delicious food. Most people have tried or heard of one of its most popular dishes, paella. Traditional paella is a flavorful rice and seafood dish. It’s a staple at Spanish restaurants from Seville to Barcelona and everywhere in between. But have you ever heard of black paella? I hadn’t, until I was waiting for a plateful of the dish courtesy of the super nice hostel staff at Oasis Granada. Logically, I asked why this paella was black. “Squid Ink. ” the cook replied. Ok, maybe I didn’t want to know.
They fired up the black paella in a huge outdoor wok like pot. A massive pile of food large enough to feed over 20 people simmered in the temporary kitchen. Hungry Americans, Germans, Brits and a collection of travelers from other parts of the world lined up plate in hand, ready to nosh. Fresh off the fire after a good mixing, the all black contents of my plate were puzzling.
I eyed my plate suspiciously. For the second time that week I questioned if I should eat something. The first time I had this feeling was over a jar of Veggiemite. I’m usually pretty excited for food. Trying dishes from other cultures is a normal activity for me. The black paella just seemed strange.
There were no deep reds or poppy yellows in the rice. I barely noticed the fish though I stared intensely at the plate. The rice, shrimp and veggie ingredients were all mixed in and simply black. For anyone who appreciates food presentation the simplicity in color, though uncommon, can be turn off. If you’re up for trying exotic and authentic dishes, black paella will satisfy your urges.
I scooped up a mouthful and tasted what only a minute before made my face wrinkle up in doubt. Nirvana. I was an instant convert. The squid ink gave it a flavor distinctly different from traditional paella. Where traditional paella is predictable with a garlic and tomato taste, black paella is bold and sassy. The color and flavor from the squid ink makes it rich and smoky still with hints of garlic and peppery flavors. Even while eating it, it’s hard to describe the combination of flavors while stuffing a spoonful.
Unfortunately, I have yet to find black paella in the states. Even if I did, I doubt it would be as tasty as a local, home made version. Maybe one day my travels will bring me back to the one dish that made me do a 180 in a matter of seconds. Until then, I’ll have to work up the nerve to try making it on my own.