"La paella" is a cooking utensil, traditionally and preferably made of iron, but now often made of stainless steel. The base of the paella is flat and should be of a good thickness. The pan is circular and shallow, and has two round handles on opposite sides. The word itself is old Valencian and probably has its roots in the Latin 'patella' (a flat basket in Galicia). The Castilian 'paila' and the French 'paele' mean the same thing.
During the centuries following the establishment of rice in Spain, the peasants of Valencia would use the paella pan to cook rice with easily available ingredients from the countryside: tomatoes, onions and snails. On special occasions rabbit or duck might be included, and the better-off could afford chicken. Little by little this 'Valencian rice' became more widely known. By the end of the nineteenth century 'paella valenciana' had established itself.
Nowadays whole families will troop off to a restaurant to eat paella, or make it at home with all those present lending a hand with the preparation. The whole thing becomes a mixture of party, ceremony and debate, or rather, considering the volume at which it is maintained, argument between the master paella cooks who are present and who are all convinced they know best how to make it.
However, there is nothing more agreeable than a paella picnic, when everyone crams themselves into cars, the boots laden with food and drink, to bump their way down to a favourite beach or up into the mountains. There, wood is gathered for the fire and olives and sausage are nibbled, while discussion rages over the rice, glistening yellow and bubbling in the warm air. It is the most sociable of occasions.
"Paella" is pronounced "pa-e-ya" with the "e" as in "let".