Valencia takes its name from the Romans who first settled Spain’s eastern Mediterranean coast. They called this strip of land Valentia, which in Latin means “The Strong,” and veterans who had distinguished themselves in battle were rewarded with plots to farm on the arable coastal plain. But the Moors, themselves no strangers to battle, took over during the 8th century. They brought rice and sugarcane, oranges and almonds, and they established elaborate irrigation networks to water their crops. They also took to the mountainous highlands, and it was at the Moorish stronghold of Valencia in 1094 that El Cid fought his famous battle. Though the Moors were eventually driven from Valencia in the mid-13th century, their influence survives today in Valencia’s architecture and cuisine.
To grasp the full impact the Moors had on this region, one has only to imagine a Spain without paella. Actually, it’s better not to. Nothing captures the essence of Spain, both in cuisine and culture, more than paella. Its preparation is an occasion, a social process that involves culinary creativity and style. Every chef has his or her own particular method, each with subtle variations in ingredients, timing, even the kind of water to use. But no matter whom you talk to, all agree that to enjoy a genuine paella you must first travel to Valencia, the birthplace of paella.