On Being Charged with Prostitution

paellaPaella is one of my favorite dishes because it is so versatile. For those of us who like to play with our food, it’s the perfect dish because you can endlessly combine ingredients while maintaining its basic integrity of a firm, medium-grain rice with sofrito and saffron. My favorite is my duck paella made with medium-rare breast, duck legs confit, and cracklings.

Apparently I’m guilty of prostitution. There is a movement afoot to “police” the making of paella:

Horrified by chefs making paella with ingredients including poached eggs and avocados, three men from Spain‘s Valencian region have banded together to fight what they call the increasing “prostitution” of one of the country’s most emblematic dishes.

Wikipaella aims to help “police” paella around the world, said co-founder Guillermo Navarro. “It’s a dish that’s really trendy these days. And there’s lots of people taking advantage of it and selling what they call authentic, traditional or Spanish paella.”

I’m fine with traditionalists insisting that the modern versions are not “authentic” if what they mean by that troubled word is something like “historically accurate”.  I think we should strive to preserve historical tastes, as best we can, just as we preserve other historical artifacts. As far as I know the traditional paella was “hunter’s food” and  included snails, rabbit and artichokes cooked over an open fire. No seafood. That’s tourist food. But there are many different versions from a variety of regions in Spain that claim theirs is authentic, and establishing a pure origin is impossible, especially since it was likely imported North Africa in any case.

But cuisines cannot remain static and unchanging if they are to survive and flourish, and it’s those tourists who encourage an interest in a region’s indigenous cuisine. It’s ridiculous to suggest that modifications to traditional ingredients are improper.

If this group is merely insisting that we not call modern concoctions authentic, I’m fine with that. The word “authentic” is virtually meaningless anyway. But if they want to insist that traditions should not change and grow, they are guilty of prostituting the idea of a living tradition. They should be celebrating Spain’s emergence as an internationally respected cuisine which can be sustained only if creativity is allowed to flourish.

So on the charge of prostitution, I’m happy to plead guilty.


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