You’ve gawped at Gaudi’s works, peeked in the Picasso Museum & rambled down La Rambla. And now you’re hungry. But perhaps you are hoping for something a little more authentic than the pre-packed, frozen paellas offered in many tourist traps. How about learning to cook paella for yourself, in the home of a local teacher?
I am a big fan of EatWith; and a big fan of paella, so I have been waiting for a chance to combine the two, and try Marta’s Famous Paella Class here in Barcelona. One of the most popular hosts on EatWith’s site, Marta was once the 3rd best ‘attraction’ in Barcelona according to TripAdvisor. Until they changed her category to ‘activity’, she explained, grinning about her heady days of TA fame. ‘Most of my guests usually find me through TripAdvisor’, she said, and she also has a page on Facebook, ‘Marta amb tu cuinem’ where you can contact her for classes. Today we had all booked our class through the EatWith website.
In case you haven’t heard of EatWith, it is basically like Airbnb for food. Hosts cook dinner for guests in their own homes, from local favourites to international haute cuisine, so there is something for everyone. Started originally with tourists in mind, to help them find an authentic dining experience with local people, it now attracts locals and visitors alike. Although lately the site seems to be leaning towards more professional chefs and pricier options, Marta is refreshingly down to earth, hosting meals in her own apartment near the Arc de Triomf. In Marta’s case, as she prepares paella, the classic Spanish dish, her guests are usually tourists visiting Barcelona, although a couple of long term residents like me were also at the class.
Once everyone had arrived Marta welcomed us all with an introduction about herself, and how she began teaching her classes here in her native Barcelona. After living in the US for many years, she left her teaching job in the States and returned back home. Unsure of what to do next, she started cooking vegetarian meals and offered a few classes, then one of her students asked her how to make paella, so she showed them. Her classes grew in popularity and she now makes a living teaching people how to make this spectacular dish, as well as continuing her other vegetarian cooking classes. Although paella originates from Valencia it is well worth sampling while you are in Barcelona, as well as the local version called Fideuà which is made from vermicelli style noodles instead of rice. Marta has perfected her own recipe for Paella over the years, and is quick to mention it is simply her preferred recipe, and that everyone adds their own personal touch.
We were each given a recipe to make notes on, and Marta introduced the ingredients one by one, explaining her choices, and what changes we could make & why. Then we all lent a hand chopping peppers, onions, garlic and the rest. All this took place in the living area of the flat, and we actually cooked outside on the terrace, which I’m sure would be beautiful in spring, although a little chilly in December! Marta had bought a purpose built gas paella barbecue, whose rings perfectly fit her large 16-person paella pan. But of course you don’t need one of those to make paella, she grinned, a normal hob will do just fine.
And then the cooking began. Everything was done according to the recipe we had been given; frying the prawns, cuttlefish, pork and chicken separately, before starting with the sofrito which would become the base of the paella, then adding in the rice, re-introducing the rest of the ingredients, and the stock. The actually cooking took a lot less time than I had imagined, which was great news as our stomachs were all rumbling by then! When the rice was just tender we began to decorate our paella, returning the prawns and meat carefully to the pan, and creating patterns with the steamed mussels and strips of roasted pepper. It looked amazing, so colourful & bright; bursting with flavours and smells. Finally came the moment we had all been waiting for, and Marta served us one by one our plates of steaming paella. Flavourful rice, juicy prawns and scrumptious clams filled each delicious mouthful.
‘How many paellas have you made in your life?’ I asked her. ‘Oh, definitely more than I can count!’ she laughed. Marta chose not to share the paella with us this time, and with classes at least once or twice a week I don’t blame her. But with so much practise and so many happy customers, it’s easy to see how her paella classes really have become famous. I thoroughly enjoyed my class with Marta, and left feeling full of food, and inspiration to make paella myself back home. Although cooking on my tiny two ring hob may not be as easy as Marta made it look!
For more information on EatWith check out their website
You can read about my first EatWith experience here