If you ask anyone to name a typical food from Spain, most will answer with paella. And they’re not wrong.
Paella is often regarded to be Spain’s national dish, and it is incredibly popular all over the country!
That being said, Spain has many regions and a lot of variety. If you ask a Spanish person what paella is, they won’t say it’s the country’s national dish. Instead, they will say that it is the dish of Valencia.
This is because paella originated in Valencia, and this is where it is the most popular. (Other regions of Spain have their own main dishes!)
Anyway, regardless of the specific origin of Valencia, and wherein Spain it comes from, there is no denying that it is a staple of Spanish cuisine, enjoyed all over the country, and around the world!
It’s perfect for social gatherings and events, cooked in large quantities, and as a rice dish with many additions. Best of all, it’s pretty filling.
But here’s the question: what do you serve with it? If you’re making paella for the first time, and you’re wondering what side dishes and beverages will complement the main dish, you’ve come to the right place.
We’re going to give you some suggestions on the best things to serve alongside paella, along with some tips.
Let’s get right into it!
What is Paella?
Before we get into the specifics of what to serve with your paella, it might be worth clarifying exactly what paella is, so you have a better understanding of it!
Put simply, paella is a rice dish, typical of Valencia, in Spain. Its main trait is that the rice is yellow, due to the use of saffron (or similar spices). It then has a wide variety of ingredients added to it and depending on what you add, you can create a certain type of paella.
That’s right, there are different types of paella, depending on what you add to the rice!
Traditionally, there are four main types of paella:
Often considered to be the original and classic, Valencian paella is usually the go-to and the best. Valencian people are very protective over it and insist that it must be done right, so there is even a standard recipe for it!
This paella, other than the rice, includes meat (usually chicken or rabbit), as well as a specified list of vegetables and spices. There is also an optional recipe for it in which you can use snails or duck meat instead!
Seafood paella, much as the name suggests, is a type of paella in which meat is replaced by seafood. In Spain, it is known as the “paella de mariscos”, and it is especially popular in the north of Spain.
The most popular additions to it are shrimps and shellfish, which must be fresh, along with vegetables (although the vegetables shouldn’t be greens!)
If you’re a vegetarian, you can still enjoy paella, by eating this specific type! Just as the name indicates, it is a paella made only out of vegetables (added onto the rice), so there is no meat or seafood to worry about.
If you would rather have a mix of everything, instead of committing to one type of paella, you can choose the mixed paella. It basically combines all three previous paellas, to the degree of your choosing.
So you basically add whatever you want to the rice, be it meat, vegetables, seafood, or preferably all at once.
Other things that you should know about paella, is that, traditionally, it should always be cooked in a wide and shallow pan that has two handles, over a wood-fueled fire. Most often, paella is cooked outdoors too!
Oh, and usually paella isn’t then served on plates, people just eat straight out of the pan!
What To Serve Alongside Paella
Now that you know the basics about paella and the different main variations, it’s time to finally answer the real question. What do you serve with paella?
Well, it can vary slightly depending on the exact type of paella you are serving, but not really that much since all paellas use the same type of rice and spices.
The most important thing to remember is that paella is a big and heavy meal.
It is filling and often eaten by itself, so whatever you serve alongside it needs to be light and small. Make sure that all appetizers, side dishes, and desserts are simple, and not as filling.
We do realize that learning to discern between what goes well with paella and what doesn’t, isn’t a skill innate to everyone.
Spanish people might instinctively know, but the rest of us don’t! And that’s why we’ve put together some lists of suitable appetizers, side dishes, desserts, and beverages, so you can pick out what you like from what works!
Here they are:
Appetizers You Can Serve With Paella
- Cheese and olives (served in small amounts, like tapas)
- Toasted almonds
- Potato frittata
- Shrimps or seafood tapas
- Small amounts of grilled foods (served as tapas)
Side Dishes You Can Serve With Paella
- Caesar salad (or any other kind of salad as long as it’s light!)
- Sweet plantain slices
- Pimientos de Padrón (these are fried Spanish chili peppers, which are green and big in size)
- Roasted red pepper
- Crusty bread (it can be used to dip in sauces or oil, and can also be used to scoop up the paella rice and eat it!)
Desserts You Can Serve With Paella
- Crema Catalana (this is a typical Spanish dessert, quite popular in Valencia, so it works really well with paella!)
- Sorbet (this is great if the paella was especially filling)
- Spiced fruit bowl
- Cooked fruit and cream
- Normal ice-cream
Beverages You Can Serve With Paella
With the beverages, you will want to avoid any drinks that have gas in them, as these can be quite filling and therefore won’t go well with the paella. Instead, you want a drink that will help push the food down, refreshing you in the process.
Some of our favorite suggestions:
- White or red wine (bonus if it’s a Spanish wine)
- Sangria (served cold)
- Mojito drinks
To sum it up, the key to serving the right things with paella is to ensure that they are light, as the paella is already pretty heavy and filling.
You also have to ensure that the texture and flavor are compatible, and ideally, you should flavor using Spanish ingredients and side dishes, as these will work the best.