Make mine an eel and snail frying pan

Posted on November 17th, 2010 by Theresa

Back in the 18th century near a lake in Albufera, a Valencian peasant with a strong Andaluz accent (come on, anything’s possible) was out shooting when he caught a nice juicy rabbit. His wife wasn’t feeling too well, so when he got home he skinned and de-gutted the animal and had a quick nose around the alacena (pantry) to see what he could rustle up for lunch. Mm, some rice, an onion, a tomato, a handful of alubias (giant haricot beans), a few green beans, and a sprig of rosemary. That would do. À la Jamie , he grabbed the pan and set about making his beloved a delicious new dish, just for her, para ella, or as he pronounced it pa’ ella. And so the paella was born.


Actually not. The sartén or frying pan he grabbed had, in fact, gone by the name of


paella since the 16th century (OK, not that particular sartén but you know what I mean) – from the old French antiguo paele, which in turn came from the Latin patella (large metal serving dish). So the paella rice dish itself took its name from the pan in which it was cooked. You are basically eating ‘frying pan’. As the dish caught on, though, everyone started to refers to the pan as the let’s-really-make-it-impossible-for-the-Brits-to pronounce-properly paellera. (This calling a thing not by its own name but by the name of something closely associated with that thing, by the way, is called a metonym.  Copa is another example, as obviously most of us don’t actually drink the glass.)

Oh yes, and apparently, my resourceful peasant was more likely to have cooked up a few eels, and snails rather than anything as relatively normal-sounding as a rabbit.

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5 Responses to “Make mine an eel and snail frying pan”

  1. MªCarmen Martínez Says:

    Very enriching indeed!!Thanks.The fact about British pronouncing ‘paella’ makes me remember an anecdote when living in Newcastle.A group of friends, not only Spanish but German and French, went to a “Bar de tapas”, so I could show them the typical Spanish dishes.When I told the waitress that we wanted to try “paella”, she wouldn’t understand.Finally she said:OOOhhh!! I know what you want: PELLA.In fact, the dish they served was very far from being a ‘paella’, I can’t even describe what she brought to the table…disgusting!!The worst was eleven pounds for that!!!

  2. Theresa Says:

    I can well imagine!

  3. Lolita Says:

    Valerie, Theresa, I love your site, but please, change the paella photo! ¡Es la paella menos apetitosa que he visto en mi vida! Hay muchas en internet, buscad una foto de una auténtica paella valenciana, pretty please!

  4. theresa Says:

    Oh God, sorry, was in a hurry! Will post tomorrow! Problem with my own pix is that they are all seafood as I don’t eat meat!

  5. theresa Says:

    I mean, peas!

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