Walking down La Explanada, there’s no shortage of restaurants trying to entice tourists with promises of authentic Spanish cuisine – particularly paella. In Alicante, many visitors look for the famous dish around dinnertime. The locals, however, have clued me in – any restaurant advertising paella for dinner is definitely for guiris – it’s a tourist trap and I’d be better off looking elsewhere. Here, unlike in Valencia, paella is called arroz, (though these days it is common to hear both words used interchangeably) and it’s most commonly eaten for comida, Spain’s main meal that happens around 2pm. What’s more, most Spaniards scoff at the restaurant-made version – for the best paella/arroz in Alicante, you’d have to try their grandmother’s variation. I was lucky enough to be invited to a local’s kitchen for the real deal.
Juanma, a friendly Alicantino, is an active member of Couch Surfing. In case you’re not familiar with Couch Surfing, it’s a web service that connects travelers seeking a couch to crash on with locals who have couches to offer. It’s more than a message board – Couch Surfers form a world wide community, where travelers and locals alike can mingle at official and unofficial Couch Surfing meetups. It was through Couch Surfing that I found out about Juanma’s open invitation to meet up for paella on a sunny Saturday afternoon. The group gathered outside el Mercado Central for tardeo, the slightly tamer, afternoon version of Spain’s late night partying, to meet over beers in the bustling atmosphere. Soon after, the Couch Surfers followed Juanma back to his apartment, where he had partially prepared a giant dish for us. While he finished up in the kitchen, the wine and tinto de verano were passed around and the room buzzed with conversation.
When the dish was ready, we carried the entire giant pan to the table, where we passed plates around to serve all ten people.
We made short work of the paella while swapping interesting stories and finding out who was a local, who had recently moved to the area, and who was passing through. Having previously visited only one other Couch Surfing event (a language exchange event at a bar), I was thrilled to have another opportunity to meet people in the welcoming (and culinarily talented!) Couch Surfing community. Since then, I’ve met up with or run into some of the people I met there, which has been a wonderful way to feel more connected to Alicante’s locals and get the inside scoop on how to experience Spanish cuisine, Alicante-style.
Many thanks to Juanma for his generous hospitality!