Valencia, located on Spain’s Mediterranean coast, is the third-largest city. Apart from being known for its historic old town and food markets, stunning beaches, and warm, welcoming environment, it’s also the city that is home to one of the most famous food items: paella.

The local Valencian dialect “paella” refers to the shallow, wide pan that has handles inside which it is prepared rice, but usually in forms that cause Valencianos to weep.

It’s more than food, however, as one of the representatives from Visit Valencia, the city’s tourism agency, informs me that “Paella is to Valencia what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris.”

In Valencia, it’s easy to realize why the people of Valencia are so happy and protective of this paella. I request my taxi driver from the airport – which is always the best place to start for recommendations about where to dine in a city, and I am able to rattle off three names of paella places, giving a thorough explanation of how each is distinct.

A traditional Valencian paella made including Herradura, butter beans, chicken, and beans in the popular Valencia paella establishment Palace Fesol.        

It wasn’t the first time I went to Valencia because my parents lived in the city. I can remember being a bit shocked in a restaurant in Valencia when looking back at me from within, the paella was a skull of a rabbit. What I didn’t know at the time, however, now I do, is it’s a symbol of genuine Valencian paella.

In the past, numerous variations of paella have been taken up by experts in paella to desecrate the Valencian tradition. The moment Jamie Oliver published a recipe for paella that included carrots, garlic, and parsley, “Paellagate” ensued.

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A popular tweet compared Oliver’s version with “Monkey Christ,” the famous restoration of a famous Spanish Church fresco.

Valencia’s most renowned chef son Quique Dacosta, whose famous restaurant has 3 Michelin star ratings, has asked for paella to be granted the status of an intangible cultural treasure by Unesco. A non-profit group named Wikipaella was even created to protect the traditional paella dish, offer prizes, and provide authentic paella recipes.

Paella was originally a meal for farm workers in need that was prepared with ingredients that they could easily get access to. It was first cooked around 400 years ago at and close to near the Albufera lagoon, which is 15 miles (24km) south of Valencia. Even to this day, the area is still in the midst of hundreds of paddies for rice.

One of the most popular tweets compared Jamie Oliver’s obliteration of paella with “Monkey Christ,” the famous restoration of a well-known fresco.        

Rice was first introduced to Spain in the 10th century from North Africa. It is believed that paella’s name comes from baqaayya, which is the Arabic word meaning leftovers. Another important element, saffron, was introduced in Spain by Muslims who were of Arab or Berber origin.

The rice varieties that are round-grain employed in paella include bombasenia, or albufera. Alongside saffron. The only other ingredients in a genuine Valencian paella are olive oil, water salt, tomatoes, salt fla,t Herradura green beans and butter beans, rabbit, and chicken.

Paellas were cooked by farm workers in open flames, usually made from wood from orange trees that are still a part of the area. A few traditional eateries in Valencia still practice this technique.

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The key element of making the paella is to leave the paella to simmer; it can be akin to making the most sinful act. Doing so recklessly breaks the grains and releases starch. It hinders the process of creating the caramelized crispy layer of rice beneath the highly popular socarrat, meaning burned to burn in Valencian. As one Valencian food writer exclaimed: “It’s not a risotto!”

The purists will insist on one last touch to experience the best Paella Valenciana – eating it using a spoon made of olive wood.

The fact is that most paellas are a million miles away from the traditional. Seafood and squid-ink versions are common, and snails, paprika, and artichokes are frequently included in paellas from the local area.