Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

paella to be precise the Valencian paella, universally known as a traditional dish in Spanish cooking, takes its name from the utensil in which it is cooked and from the Spanish region on the shores of the Mediterranean where it had its origin. This dish symbolizes the union and heritage of two important cultures, the Roman which gave us the utensil and the Arab which brought us the basic food of humanity for centuries: rice.

The etymological roots of the word are of interest. Going back a long way one finds in the Sanskrit language the word , which means to drink, from which were derived the Latin terms patera, patina, patella, meaning a chalice or culinary utensil to be used for various purposes including frying. In Castilian there existed a primitive form of denomination paela and also patella, so in an ancient dictionary we can read that ‘patella is a pan or paella for frying’. There also existed old adapted forms of padiella, so we can read paella in the Duties from Santander of the 13th century and paellon in an inventory from Toledo in 1434. The name payla was also used and in the 16th century many classical authors mention these utensils in their works, among them Fray Luis of Granada who states in one of his works, ‘the idols came to be unappreciated and were smelted down—as they deserved—to be made into paylas and caldrons’. This word, while it is not normally used in Spanish, can still be heard in Andalusia and Latin America. The etymological form paele or payele existed in French up until the 15th century and then became poêle which means pan.