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When superstar chef Ferran Adrià declared that the best paella in the world came from a small restaurant in Alicante – and not Valencia, where the dish originated – he lit the touchpaper on a serious culinary rivalry. But what made Spain’s most famous chef come to this conclusion and was he right?

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Almost everyone now agrees that paella was invented in Valencia. That’s not up for discussion. We know that some time in the 19th century, peasants from the Albufera area, a few miles south of the city, first began frying up rabbit, chicken and beans, occasionally with mountain snails, before adding water, seasoning and, finally, rice.

That’s paella. Or rather, that’s what it’s supposed to be. But, as any Valencian will tell you, paella didn’t remain in this state of purity for long. Pretty soon, the dish spread down the coast and villagers who didn’t know better started adding seafood. From the point of view of paella purists, it’s been downhill ever since.

Fast forward a hundred years or so and you end up with the more touristy restaurants around Spain, advertising something called ‘paella’ which their Valencian neighbours would dismiss as ‘prawns in rice’.

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So it must have come as a shock when legendary chef Ferran Adrià recently said that a small restaurant called Paco Gandía (www.pacogandia.com) in the province of Alicante, serves the best paella in the world. It must have been as if a kitchen knife were being twisted in the heart of Valencia’s proud rice tradition. The Michelin Guide has also been quick to include this unpretentious restaurant in its hallowed pages. Although it doesn’t have a star, it’s described as a charming restaurant in the foodies’ bible and worth a visit.

6a01348617181b970c01539432e87c970b-300wiFound in Pinoso, a small village in the rugged highlands from Alicante, the small and rigorously authentic restaurant Paco Gandía serves paella in all its earthbound purity. Josefa Navarro and her husband Paco use round, short-grain calasparra rice cooked over an open fire of vine cuttings and garnished with creatures that thrive in neighboring vineyards – rabbit and snails.

As any aficionado will tell you, great paella is all about the rice. It should be slightly crunchy and yet still moist in its consistency.  Paco Gandia’s version meets all the criteria and has a caramelized, golden crust – known as soccarat by paella mavens – stuck to the bottom of the pan.  The paella’s flavors at Paco Gandía are intense, slightly smoky with intense saffron and grilled-meat notes. The rabbit and the snails add an earthiness and rich consistency to the dish. My suggestion is to make the trip there and find out for yourself.