Pals – the rice capital of Catalonia
We first visited the beautiful town of Pals whilst working for a cycling/walking holiday company, several years ago. Pals was one of a series of impressive medieval towns and villages that our customers passed through (albeit very briefly) and though we were aware of the rice fields and the rice dishes of the area, we had little opportunity to explore this further, at that time (other than to dine heartily on the local dishes!).
Yesterday we were fortunate to attend the annual celebration of the harvest. We learnt a little about the history; rice has been grown in the area since the 15th century (believed to have been brought here by the Arabs of Valencia). In the 18th century cultivation was limited, as it was believed that the standing water may have been the cause of disease, in the area, at that time. Fortunately, cultivation was restarted in 1900 and now there are currently 3 commercial operators and 20 families making their living from rice production.
There are currently 7 varieties grown in the pools of Basses d’en Coll outside the town, ranging from more well-known varieties such as; Bahia, Bomba and Carnaroli to more specialist Tebra, Jsendra, Loto and Akita Komachi (a Japanese variety used in sushi).
Pals is a slow food town, part of the cittaslow association, which seeks to preserve the landscape, local cooking and produce, customs and traditions. This means there are plenty of great places to try the local dish of L’arros a la cassola. This is a rice stew using the Bahia variety and the dish contains; cuttlefish, prawns, clams, chicken, rabbit, small sausages, peas, onion, tomato, garlic, parsley and fumet (fish stock). This is a seriously hearty dish, that packs a real flavour punch (by the way, Spaniards only ever eat rice dishes at lunch as they are too heavy for night time).
In the springtime (first week April to 2nd week May) there is also a gastronomic event in the town comprising of cookery courses, visits to the rice fields, markets, conferences, workshops etc. All the local restaurants offer their own version of the traditional dish. (date for the diary, methinks!)
Similar to the harvest, which we celebrated yesterday, the sewing of the seeds in June is marked with a country breakfast and a demonstration of traditional techniques.
We had a great time yesterday and would heartily recommend it. (there were also free horse and carriage rides to the fields, Catalan storytelling and some craft stalls – including excellent rice beer!)
However, there were also several awkward/comedy moments, such as arriving 3 hours early (serious language deficiency on our part). In addition, as there wasn’t enough seating for the 300 guests, we were seated at the VIP table….
I suspect we were possibly the only non-locals there and fortunately the people sat next to us sorted us out with wine (no, we didn’t dare try to drink from the traditional porron, though some on the table did) and they kindly told us when it was time to jump up and scramble (literally) for the rice. Otherwise we would not have had a clue!!! And we got to meet the mayor (we later found out who he was), who seemed like a down to earth kind of chap. My favourite part was watching the guy cook the enormous rice, which I never thought would feed everyone, but it did, perfectly!!!!
(For more information on this beautiful town and the rice tradition see visitpals.com)