In Paella We Trust

A friend of ours just hosted a “P” party. You know, come dressed as a pirate or petunia or drape yourself in purple or plumes… that kind of thing. I can’t wait to hear what the most creative costume was, but in the meantime, the invite got me thinking about “P.” When I post (there’s that “p”) on our daily Facebook and Twitter feeds, I feel like the alliteration queen at times. In fact, I even consciously try to avoid alliterating some days. (For all you non-writer-ly types out there, alliteration is: the repetition of initial consonant sounds in two or more neighboring words) But often, the post goes something like:  Late lunchtime line-up at Slurp! Come for Paella, paninis, flatbread pizzas….  And so on. So I’ve had “p” on the brain for a few days, which meant I was pondering paella. (I know! Can’t help it.)

Rebecca Withers Chastenet

Paella, which is the one dish we spoon up every day at Slurp, has a colorful history. Without being aware of it, we’ve been making the perfect laborers’ meal. It might sound exotic or “fancy” on the menu of a funky little food truck, and we do do a lot of explaining about it—the ingredients, the spices we spike it with, that it’s Spanish, like the “tortilla” we serve, and no, it doesn’t have shellfish in it. But it turns out paella is the perfect food truck treat. I know from my travels in Europe that paella trucks are an open-air market fixture in many countries outside of Spain—in England, Italy, and France. The trucks there usually fix only paella, and they serve it from pans so big that if they were flung into the sky they might be mistaken for flying saucers. So paella holds a spot on the contemporary street food scene. But what’s it all about? And why serve it at Slurp?

Seems the rice dish originated in the Valencia region of Spain, a kind-of marshy area that today is known as the Albufera National Park. Field workers prepared it during the extended midday break, cooking the paella over an open fire in the fields, and eating it communally from the pan with a stash of wooden spoons kept on hand. Like our paella at Slurp, early paella was made without shellfish. But tasty morsels of snail were the most common protein dotting the big platter of saffron-seasoned rice and green vegetables. Escargots from an Airstream anyone? Rabbit and duck were the next most common meats in paella, with chicken entering the pan only after the dish became more popular fare in communities, where the better-off folks raised poultry alongside their vegetable gardens. Chorizo (which we do use) and shellfish appeared as stars of the paella pan much, much later. The most troubling paella tidbit I discovered in my research was a citing that Valencians in the 18th century nibbled their rice and veggies with water vole! Huh? Water vole?!!? That’s more or less muskrat to you and me, an amphibious rodent resembling a fattened mouse that today is listed as a “vulnerable” species. Well no wonder!

We love making paella—check out our video feed on this page, it shows paella-creation in action—and our regular customers seem to love it too.  It’s a simple dish, and simply beautiful when ready, a palette of yellow dotted with green, red, and rusty browns. It’s one of those things that began as a creative whim, and has carried us along in lean times and brought us distinction. Little did we know it was a perfect food truck entrée.

In 2001, a fellow named Juan Galbis fed over 100,000 people from an enormous pan of paella that landed him an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records. You can see the picture of it at  That got me reading about the loads of paella-making competitions out there, which only fed my wanderlust and reminded me of how stationary our supposedly “mobile” eatery is—literally and figuratively. I’ve written in earlier blogs that we’ve got plans. I’ve said that it’s “our time.” That we will take this sweet, shiny airstream eatery to the next level, whatever that might be. That we get discouraged when we follow a frontal lobe, linear model of thinking about our struggling enterprise. And I’ve also said that for whatever reason, this little “temple” of a truck sustains us. And it does, most of the time.

Reading me here let’s you know that my mind works a lot like those sing-along bouncing balls we used to follow on TV as kids. Only instead of bouncing along merrily in perfect rhythm, my thoughts seem to careen wildly. Friends know I talk tangentially, and the “bestest” of buds indulge my habit. That’s how I can go from a “p” party to alliteration to paella to amphibious muskrats to discouragement and wanderlust and now onto Steve Jobs and connect the dots. I just read again about how the Nike slogan “Just Do It” came about. It was in an article about creativity, and it talks about how the advertising team was wrapping up another brainstorming session, and had come up empty. One executive thought of a colleague’s comment on Norman Mailer, which made him think of one of Mailer’s book subjects whose last words were “Let’s Do It.” From there, Nike’s slogan was born. And the rest is history.

So maybe the next dot in the connect-the-dots schema that landed us our Slurp truck in the first place has something to do with paella? I’ve said that paella distinguishes us from other trucks, in Santa Fe and in cities beyond. Maybe the next dot is as simple as a paella-making contest entry or a Spanish dinner party for a favorite customer at which we glimpse the “golden egg,” (read Newness in the archives).  You never know. That’s the Steve Jobs part. He said in that increasingly famous Commencement address from 2005, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you just have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something…” Why not paella?

Follow Rebecca on Twitter: @SLURPSantaFe