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Valencia, Spain, gives cultural protection to iconic rice and meat dish paella

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, HOST:

The Spanish city of Valencia is swelling with paella pride. Its government has given the region's iconic dish of rice, meat and vegetables protected cultural status. And now Valencia is also looking to get it on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

MIGUEL PEREZ: By protecting these things, we make sure that in the future, they will keep like they are. It's a way to keep traditions, no?

KURTZLEBEN: That's Miguel Perez, brand and marketing director for Visit Valencia, the local tourism board.

Paella was developed over centuries - huge props to the Arabs who made it possible to grow large crops of rice successfully in the region. About a thousand years later, in the 1700s, the first reference to Valencia-style rice shows up.

PEREZ: And they were putting vegetables and chicken. It could be also duck or it could be rabbits. I don't know - you know what Spain means? Land of rabbits.

KURTZLEBEN: Now, there are many different ways to make paella. But Miguel Perez says there is only one true recipe for Valencian paella.

PEREZ: When we talk about Valencian paella, we want to protect also this name of Valencian paella, because that is, like, a traditional recipe. And the traditional recipe from Valencia paella doesn't have fish or doesn't have chorizo.

KURTZLEBEN: No fish, no chorizo. Not for their paella. But they're not opposed to other paella. Perez says that on World Paella Day, September 20, Valencia invites chefs to come create their own versions.

PEREZ: For example, the Irish chef - he did the paella, which was really tasty, with oysters and Guinness.

KURTZLEBEN: But to make a good paella, taking your time is as important as the ingredients.

PEREZ: Something very important is to cook it slowly. We have a very famous Valencian chef. She says cooking paella, you need to do it slowly, like when you are doing love, no?

KURTZLEBEN: Just like when you're doing love, yes. That's Miguel Perez, brand and marketing director for Visit Valencia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.