Valencia is the birthplace of the globally popular dish paella and so it has a special place in its heart for its main ingredient: it even gets to be centre of attention at the Rice Museum of the City of Valencia.
Great care and attention has been paid to the restoration of the Serra mill and machinery in order to show how the industrialisation of rice and its culture has been of great importance to Spain. As a major consumer of the food, its importation is still low because of the vast areas of paddy fields in wetlands outside cities such as Valencia.
Valencia City Council worked with the Polytechnic University of Valencia to restore the Serra mill to make it the Rice Museum of the City of Valencia. This allows visitors to see the age-old process at work and compare it to modern methods and facilities.
The restoration of this mill make it possible to imagine the Umberger family who ran the works in the early twentieth century. Since then, slowly, the complex machinery of the mill was adapted to new materials and new times. The mill was changing hands; Umberger family, to Lluch and later to Serra. Though new machinery was introduced, the process hardly changed.
The facts and detail that can be found in the museum will make it clear what an important role rice has played and still does play in the Valencian culture. Rice has been used in the Mediterranean since ancient times but rice cultivation came with Arab influence. It was planted on the outskirts of towns and cities – like Valencia’s huerta – and became a food of the masses, rather than the wealthier classes.
If you are looking for a truly authentic experience when you visit, seek out rice dishes in addition to the paella the region is famous for. Arros al forn is a rice dish baked with meat – usually sausages – including potato, and arros negre is coloured with squid ink and contains squid.