When perusing the menu at any traditional restaurant in Barcelona, one is sure to find a range of paellas and seafood plates. A closer look will also reveal the fideuá, its main ingredient left a mystery. Sometimes done up as fideos arrosejats in Catalonia, fideuá is actually a variation of the iconic seafood paella, but in this case made with fideo (short, thin wheat noodles) instead of rice and often served with an intense allioli sauce on the side.
Fideuá traces its roots to the Valencian port town of Gandía. According to the Asociación Gastronómica Fideuà de Gandia, the dish was created around 1912-1914 on board the fishing trawler Santa Isabel. The boat would depart at 4am each morning and return in the evenings, meaning the six sailors on board would dine on deck. It happened one day that the boat cook began preparing the marca (the veggies and seafood that make up the paella base), chopping and cooking all the prawns and monkfish only to realize that there was zero rice on board. Like any true cook, they eyed the pack of fideo usually reserved for soup and decided they could also do a fine job soaking up the powerful seafood stock of any paella marinera. The result was a happy crew and a new, iconic dish to add to the Spanish Levantine cuisine.
In the south of Catalonia, fideos arrosejats (or rosejats), is similar to the rice dish of the same name, arroz rossejat. Another typical dish served on humble fishing boats, the noodles – or rice – is stir-fried in olive oil and garlic for flavor, before being cooked in the seafood stock.
It was the Moors who introduced rice cultivation in the south and east of Spain during the 8th century. Like rice and other Moorish specialties that were not engaged by Christianity, noodles have a similar history of rising and vanishing glory. Early references in Al-Andalus cuisine mention fidewsh as one of the types of pasta available, together with itriya (now known in southeastern Murcia as aletría) or semolina, made from wheat, millet, rye or barley. These noodles were cooked with chicken, meat and vegetable broth.
Sometimes done up as fideos arrosejats in Catalonia, fideuá is actually a variation of the iconic seafood paella, but in this case made with fideo (short, thin wheat noodles) instead of rice and often served with an intense allioli sauce on the side.
Around the same time, Muslims arrived in Sicily, leaving a similar food legacy there. While the Sicilians of the next few centuries masterfully developed the basis of Italian pasta culture, the same product was vanished from Spanish recipe notes and books when the Moors were expelled in the 15th century. That was until the late renaissance when, thanks to the European influence of Italian cuisine, a few dishes of pasta started to return to tables of the Spanish elite. We actually had to wait until the late-19th century to start seeing more pasta recipes in popular kitchens and in the limited pantries of Valencian fishing boats.
Different kinds of short noodles are used for fideuá. Depending on the chef’s criteria, it could be curved, hollow pasta (like the thin and small Italian macaroni or elbows) to trap in more flavor, or the classic fideo, the most typical in Catalonia. These range from the thinner Nº2 to the thicker Nº4 (with the diplomatic Nº3 being a favorite of many chefs).
Nowadays, some of the best places to enjoy a good fideuá in Barcelona are those that specialize in Valencian cuisine or rice dishes. A classic spot where fideuá is elevated to sophisticated levels of enjoyment is Can Solé. Here, the “Arroces and Fideuás” section of the menu boasts a list of 10 different shorter noodle dishes – with clams, lobster, velvet crab, scallops or sea urchins. For a smaller neighborhood option, we recommend Diània in Gràcia. It’s a cozy eatery where the Valencian culinary tradition can be introduced to your palette in the most succulent, extraordinary way. Their dishes are made mostly from Valencian products, including a fideuá of prawns and cuttlefish in fish stock, and made with short, hollow noodles for a real flavor party.
Below is the Gandía’s Fideuá Culinary Association’s most traditional fideuá recipe.
Serves 6 (in a 47 cm diameter paella pan)
600 g scampi/langoustines
250 g prawns
600 g monkfish, chopped
600 g fideos Nº4
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
200 g chopped tomato
1 teaspoon paprika
1 grated onion
1 pinch of saffron powder
150 g oil
2 liters of fish broth
Heat the oil in a paella pan. When hot, add the scampi and prawns, sauté them for a short time and reserve. In the same pan, stir fry the onion until is transparent. Then add the garlic and tomato and let cook. Add the monkfish and sauté until mostly cooked, and toss in a pinch of paprika. Add the broth and. When it starts to boil, pour in the noodles and then the saffron powder. Let them boil over medium heat, until the dish acquires a deep color.
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