Updated Aug 31 2023
Paella is one of the gastronomic treasures of Spain and, as a result, one of the must-try dishes as the thousands of tourists that visit Barcelona, the other cities of Catalonia and the rest of Spain do each year.
Information about Paella, the best-known typical Spanish dish
Its great reputation is no accident, with a base of rice, each variety of paella made today includes some of the most delicious, authentic, and signature products that form part of the gastronomic culture of our country.
The Paella, whose name refers to a type of pan and comes from the enormous pan that is used to make it which is called a “paellera”, has its origins in the region of Valencia in the 18th Century, specifically in the area of Albufera.
This is why the traditional paella, also called the original or classic paella, is also called Paella Valenciana (in english Valencian Paella).
The ingredients used to make it are based on the typical food of the Valencia region that were and still are, farmyard animals and vegetables from the Valencian garden.
As the years have gone on, bit by bit the paella has changed from a Valencian dish to a traditional Spanish dish. Each region in Spain has taken the original recipe and adapted it to the particular gastronomic characteristics of their region. That is why it is currently possible to find various types of paella, with each one being made with different ingredients.
The different types of authentic Spanish Paella
So that a paella can be called as such, it doesn’t necessarily have to include the original ingredients but it does have to have the right type of rice (medium-sized grain and the most common are from Valencia, Senia, Bomba, Bahía and Albufera) and it should be made as tradition dictates.
However, when we refer to Paella Valenciana, or the original paella, the use of certain basic ingredients have to be included as well as adding in some others ingredients too.
The original recipe is based on the use of different food from the area of Albufera. This includes rice, undoubtedly one of the most important foods in the region of Valencia thanks to the large amount of crops, which is cooked and fried with meat from the farm and vegetables from the Valencian garden.
Ingredients: rice, tomato, olive oil, water, saffron, salt, butter beans, chicken, rabbit and green beans. You can also add other ingredients without losing the title of “Paella Valenciana”: garlic, paprika, rosemary, duck, artichoke and snails.
Seafood Paella is the most popular version of the original Valencian paella and the most typical of coastal towns in Spain, including the city of Barcelona. To make it, use different types of seafood and fish as well as fish stock, whilst taking out the vegetables and meat from the original recipe.
Ingredients: rice, tomato, olive oil, onion, pepper, fish stock, saffron, salt and different types of seafood and fish, usually prawns, lobster, mussels, clams, cuttlefish or calamari.
Paella de Montaña, or Mountain Paella, also simply called mountain rice or chicken paella, includes different types of meat which can vary depending on the most typical products of the region where the paella is being made.
Ingredients: rice, tomato, olive oil, water, salt and different types of meat (chicken, rabbit, duck, ribs, sausage / butifarra), also used to give flavour to the stock when cooking the rice. You also need to add vegetables and mushrooms to this paella.
Paella Mixta, or Mixed Paella, as the name indicates, comes from mixing the recipe of two paellas which in this case is the seafood paella with the mountain paella. It is another common variant and can be found across Spain except for the region of Valencia. To make it, add meat (chicken and rabbit) and different types of seafood.
Ingredients: rice, fish stock, tomato, onion, pepper, olive oil, saffron, salt, chicken and rabbit or duck and different types of seafood and fish, usually prawns, lobster, mussels, clams, cuttlefish or calamari.
Vegetable Paella is the ideal option for vegetarians and vegans, as it contains no meat, fish or any animal product.
Ingredients: rice, onion, pepper, tomato, olive oil, vegetable stock, and different vegetables (green beans, aubergine, asparagus, beans, cauliflower, artichokes, etc.).
To conclude this “quick course” on paella, note that the fact that a paella is not the original Valencian Paella is not to say in any way that it is any less tasty. And as we say in Spain “para gustos los colores” (everyone has their own different tastes!) Moreover, in Barcelona, as we mentioned before, it is more common to eat Seafood Paella (my personal favourite :P) or even the Mixed Paella.
Having said that, not all cooked rice with different ingredients is a paella. Which is why you should go to a bar, restaurant or a restaurant specialising in seafood that works with the best quality ingredients and that makes proper paellas.
If the paella is made with fresh ingredients and is homemade and not with pre-prepared ingredients, then it is a dish that will take a while to cook. Which is why it is always recommended to order a starter to share whilst you wait for the paella to arrive.
It is most common to order a tapa or seafood starter, such as shellfish (clams, mussels, calamari, prawns, etc.). They are not usually large dishes, so you can stall your hunger without filling up too much whilst waiting for that long anticipated paella.
Where to eat the best paella in Barcelona?
There are many restaurants that specialise in making paella in Barcelona. Many of them can be found close to the beach, such as La Barceloneta along the waterfront and the rest of the coast in Barcelona. And if the restaurant has a terrace and the weather to go with it, we suggest you go for the terrace.
As Barcelona is a seaside city with a long fishing tradition, the most popular paella is definitely the Seafood Paella although it is, of course, also possible to find other types of paellas. Personally, I love to eat paella in La Barceloneta, as some of the authentic and historical restaurants located in the narrow and historic streets or even some in a more open space, have a terrace which sometimes offer a great view of the beach and waterfront.
But you can’t only find a great paella next to the sea, so if you find yourself in another part of Barcelona, don’t worry! As you’ll also get the chance to try a delicious paella.
Paella Experiences in Barcelona
To delve even further into the world of the paella, whether you live in Barcelona or are staying for a few days in the city, it’s a great idea to go to one of the paella experiences which allows you to watch and you can even make your own paella.
You can attend a cooking class at one of the many cooking spaces, where you can make a delicious paella under the supervision of a professional chef.
Visit Fishermen of La Barceloneta and taste the Seafood Menu
Guided tour and tasting
Visit La Boqueria Market and Cook a Spanish Paella
Cooking class and La Boqueria Market guided visit
All these suggestions offer a unique way to have fun with friends, your partner or family (although you can also go by yourself, as I did a while ago) whilst you learn to cook one of the most famous and delicious dishes of our national cuisine. And, naturally after some time cooking and seeing the chef at work you finally get to taste the paella or rice dish. In my view, they are one of the most interesting gastronomic experiences and I highly recommend you to try it.
Best restaurants and “Marisquerías” in Barcelona for eating paella
It is impossible to name the bar, restaurant or “marisquería” (a restaurant specialising in seafood) where you can eat the best paella in Barcelona. This is because, fortunately, there are a lot of bars, restaurants and marisquerías in the city that offer an excellent paella, as well as other types of rice (personally I recommend you to try the delicious “arroz caldoso con bogavante” creamy rice with lobster).
When choosing what paella to try, you should also bear in mind the individual taste of each person in the group. So here you will find an extensive list and a map of the best places to eat a great paella. And if you are lucky enough to go to more than one of these restaurants, you can then decide which paella is the best ;).
c/ de l’Escar, 22 (muelle Pescadores) Terraza con vistas al Port Vell La Barceloneta + info
Map of best restaurants and marisquerías of Barcelona
In Catalonia, the area of las Terres de l’Ebre, touching the region of Valencia, is one of the best places to try an excellent paella, including the original Valencian Paella. Other areas that are essential for trying paella is the Costa Brava, in this case the seafood paella is definitely recommended and the area has some charming seaside towns.
Paella traditions, recommendations and information
If you are reading the restaurant menu and you see “Paella Parellada” o “Paella del Senyoret” then don’t panic, it is not a strange paella recipe but refers to a seafood paella where all the seafood (prawns, lobster, mussels, etc.) have been peeled beforehand, making it easier for you to eat it. Because of this, the price is usually more expensive.
In Spain you usually eat paella for lunch (and although many think that we eat paella every day the truth is we don’t. Paella is a special meal usually eaten at specific times such as meeting up with family, celebrating a special occasion, going to the seaside, etc.).
But don’t worry, there are many tourists that come to visit Barcelona and choose to eat paella for dinner and restaurants, especially those in the more central areas, are used to it and love to serve a paella at any time of the day, even at night ;).
As you have seen, the world of the paella is broad and varied in terms of each region. In Barcelona it is common, especially when the sunny weather begins, to go out and eat a paella with friends on a Sunday in one of the restaurants along the coast, or even at a nearby beach town.
Another tradition, is the so-called “Paella del Jueves” (Thursday Paella), a much cheaper version that is usually included on the “menú del día” (daily set menu) in many bars and restaurants. In these cases, it is quite common to go with work colleagues to eat out.
When they serve you the paella, it will come with some lemon wedges. They are not just a mere garnish but are used to season the paella, although it is not compulsory to use them. So you will have to squeeze the lemon onto your dish to give it the final touch.
Excellent question! Leaving aside the paellas that are found on the menu from any of the cheapest restaurants, the average price for a good paella at a specialised restaurant can vary between €15 and €22 per person (depending on the type of paella the price can vary slightly, the seafood paella being more expensive).
The paella is not exactly a cheap dish as it is made with high quality ingredients and takes a lot of work to make. This is why the paella is not an everyday dish.
In restaurants (at least those that make proper paella or not the paella found on the Thursday menu which I mentioned previously) the paella is made for a minimum of two people (although the price shown is always per person).
In the entrance of many restaurants you will see a poster with the photo of the paella written as “Paellador”. This is nothing less than a prepared paella and very little or nothing to do with an authentic Spanish paella that is made traditionally with fresh ingredients.
We also recommend you to avoid the typical restaurants, almost always located in very central places on the Rambla de Barcelona, where they have an offer showing: Paella + Sangría + Tapas for a certain price.
Obviously, I realise that you cannot generalise, but in the majority of cases these are places where you don’t get a very good paella. That is why in these restaurants it is (almost) impossible to find a local from Barcelona eating there.