paella Valenciana

Restaurant exterior_1816

The other night we stepped out for some paella Valenciana. I should point out first that here in Spain, we rarely sit down for a full meal out. With five (perennially) hungry people, eating out often would get pricey for us. But on a particular evening a couple of weeks ago, we got cozy around a table at Eugenio’s place, in Sagunt, where we had spent the afternoon hiking through Roman ruins.

Did I mention we were hungry? There was no way we were going to make it back to Barcelona without real food.

Enter Eugenio, whom I met when I walked into his little restaurant to ask how long it might take for him to make some paella for us.

Three kids at the table_1831

Menus_1840

Three things struck me as my family clustered around a large table on which sat a large, round pan of the most amazing paella I’ll probably ever be privileged to inhale during my natural lifetime.

Paella_1879

One.  Food makes people talkative.  As we ate, we chatted about the food: how rich it was, and how wonderfully good. But talk about food inevitably phases to talk about other things.  And pretty soon, you’re talking about All Kinds Of Stuff. Together. And between the food and the talk, you realize: Ah!–this is what mealtime is meant to be.  Moreover, sometimes quieter family members find their voice at the table, a distinct bonus.

Forks in the rice_1894

Two.  Moments spent eating together go right into each member’s cache of family memories.  Eugenio encouraged us to use the spoons he gave us, not just the forks.  He told us to scrape the bottom of the pan in order to get the socarrat–the layer of rice toasted in meat juices. So each of us scraped away, working to get the socarrat, which, as promised, was indeed rather mindblowingly savory. But it’s not just the taste I’ll remember; it’s all of us cleaning the bottom of the pan together. Food-turned-experience. Food-turned-memory. I believe just about any meal has the potential to be that!

Socarrat_1906

Three.  Wherever, whenever, whatever–just so it’s the fam.

So it doesn’t have to be paella.  Honest.  Some of our happiest dinner meals involve pancakes and homemade syrup.  The point is that we’re passing the syrup around, to each other. You do it enough times, it becomes a ritual. You learn how each member of the family likes their pancakes fixed: some with the syrup drizzled, some with it around the sides but not on top. As people settle into the meal, they relax, and the chatter starts. And often the laughter. Why people laugh so hard while they eat, I don’t know. If I had to say how many times one of my children had to leave the table because they were laughing so hard milk was about to come out their nose, I couldn’t do it.

It’s that combination of nourishment and family. Nothing beats a decent meal with your own little clan for making life seem downright good for a moment or two.

(Casa Eugenio:  Plaza Peixcateria, Sagunt.  96 266 58 31)

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