Monday, 10 May 2010

World of Noodles 4: Fideuá

My occasional series on the world of noodles goes European with a trip to Spain, more specifically, Valencia. As you've probably worked out from the photo, fideuá is a dish similar to paella but made with noodles instead of rice. 

I've been intrigued by this dish for a long time and as a foodgeek, I wanted to find out some more about its origins. As with many dishes, the history of fideuá is hazy. One version has it that in the 1960's some absent-minded soul forgot to get the rice in for paella and ended up using fideo noodles instead. This 'accidental' invention sounds a bit far fetched, as I'm sure they could've borrowed some rice from a neighbour. I also reckon the idiot who forgot the rice would've been chided for their absent-mindedness rather than be lauded as some kind of genius.

Fideo noodles, photo courtesy of Wikipedia

More research led to a more plausible story, not least because the inventor was named as Juan Bautista Pascual Sanchís. Better known by his nickname, Zabalo, this fisherman from Gandia created fideuá in 1930 when aged just fifteen. As the youngest member of the crew, Zabalo was responsible for cooking and he normally rustled up arros a banda, rice cooked with fish stock. The problem was that the skipper of the boat ate more than his fair share, which left Zabalo and the rest of the crew hungry.

Zabalo had a cunning plan though, he decided to use noodles instead of rice, thinking that the skipper may leave some more for them. I don't want to knock Zabalo but I don't think he really thought this through properly. It was obvious that the skipper would still eat more than his fair share whatever you fed him. By the way, the skipper sounds like a real shit, I'm surprised he didn't try to take some credit for Zabalo's idea, as that's what many bosses would do.

Anyway, fideuá was born and it soon spread out of Gandia across the rest of the Valencia region, Spain, and the rest of the world. If I were more of a cook then I would've got the ingredients together and followed a recipe like this one. But as you know by now, cooking isn't really my forte so instead I decided to track down a Spanish restaurant in London that serves this speciality.

Given the plethora of Spanish restaurants in London, you'd think my task would be easy but you'd be surprised how few places serve fideuá. I did track a place down in the end but even then I was worried that I might not be the man to judge noodles Spanish style.

Luckily, one of my friends spent a lot of time in Valencia on business and ate plenty of fideuá there. Under different circumstances, he would be called Senor Fideo but long time readers of the blog may remember him as the Italian Shetland Pony. You can check out what ISP and I thought of the London fideuá scene in the next post. 


  1. I shall await your thoughts on the matter of Spanish noodles with interest. I love the story - it really does seem like a lot of modern dishes are rooted in one sort of interesting story or another (or many different ones as is the case with Pavlovas)... I love it - and I don;t even mind if they;re true or not, a good story can only enhance the food.

  2. Ooh, very interesting! I'm now pondering what other interesting dishes could be created by substituting noodles for rice (and vice versa - macaroni cheese with risotto rice?)

  3. Gworm - I also love the stories behind food. Interestingly, the 1960's version is cited in English Wikipedia whilst the Zabalo version came from Spanish wikipedia.

    Kake - noodles and rice swappage - if I was a more accomplished cook, I might experiment a bit more. The strangest swappage I've seen was in Taiwan where I was served a 'seafood burger' in a 'bun' where the bun was made of pressed rice !