While I consider myself fairly well versed in the likes of Spanish food and wine, my knowledge of arroces just wasn’t up to par. That is, until I left Andalucía and went to the proud home of Spain’s reigning rice (paella) in the region of Valencia; or more specifically, Alicante.
There, I discovered not only that there’s a devotion to rice way beyond paella (there’s even a rice museum in Valencia!), but that there are also distinctions amongst the rice dishes, that only amateurs like me confuse.
First there are “dry” rice dishes like paella. These are considered dry because the goal of cooking them is to have the rice fully absorb the stock. Then, there are rice stews, called arroz caldoso, which aren’t cooked in the traditional paella pan; instead they’re cooked in ceramic or metal dishes. There are also casserole-style variations, oven-baked rice dishes and fideuás, which are essentially a seafood paella made with noodles instead of rice.
Though in Alicante there are many recipes for rice-based meals, arroz a banda is one of the most typical, and beloved, of the province. Made of rice, saffron and seafood, it’s believed to have been consumed in Spain for as long as rice has been in the country; about the time the Moors invaded.
Originally created by poor fisherman, it was a way to use the cheap, common fish that were bony, but very flavorful, to make a filling lunch. Its name refers to the style in which it’s traditionally served: a banda means apart. Arroz a banda was eaten with the rice separate from the broth that it was cooked in because at this time, rice was considered an inferior food.
Nowadays, arroz a banda is served both together and separate (I had it together), accompanied by a dollop of ali oli, which complements the flavors perfectly. To find a restaurant that serves great seafood and arroz a banda, try the Nautical Club (Club Náutico) in the city you’re in. It will be a little pricey, but absolutely worth the splurge.
I highly recommend Restaurante El Puerto in Torrevieja and Taberna del Puerto in Alicante for delicious arroz a banda and excellent service. For extra inspiration on what to see and do, try this Alicante guide written by Teletext Holidays and this one, written by yours truly.