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Know your onions? The Spanish do, and they’re not happy

Advert showing the vegetable being used in a paella has caused a mighty hoo-ha

It started with an onion and ended with editorials in several Spanish newspapers.

The summer television advert for Estrella Damm has caused a mighty hoo-ha since its release two weeks ago. Not because it shows two women kissing and features an unclothed bottom, but because it seems to show its protagonists – shock/horror – putting onion in paella. Just “rice with stuff”, harrumphed El Mundo. “An attack on paella”, Las Provincias said.

Valencians are dogged when it comes to their regional dish. You can have the traditional version, with rice, rabbit, chicken, garrofon beans and seasoning. Or you can have the shellfish or snail version. But that’s it. Bring any sort of allium within 100 yards of the flame-lit pan in which the rice is cooking and people start shouting. It is a matter of regional pride, and regional pride, as we know, is big in Spain.

Mark Bittman, food columnist of The Times Magazine, New York – a reliable witness most of the time – might counsel the inclusion of everything from almonds to snow peas (mange tout to you and me) and pork in paella but, no, says the Comunidad de la Paella (Paella Community Group), this is what guiris (slang for Americans) do.

Even a cool-headed man such as Josep Carbonell, who is the executive chef at Brindisa, the respected London tapas restaurant, is firm on this matter. “The traditional paella does not include onion,” he says. “Recipes that do are not strictly paella, but described as rice dishes or arroces.”

So there you have it; they don’t mind about arses in Spain, but don’t mess with their arroces.