A Spanish rice dish. The two essential ingredients are short grained rice and saffron. These are combined with some form of pork, chicken, fish and shellfish. Its also customary to have a mirepoix of peppers, onions and garlic.

The cook determines the exact combination of the animal ingredients, and it is in their selection that the dish is personalized. Once you make a paella you enjoy, it becomes yours, you own it, and no one else's paella can exactly compete. In this way, paella is very similar to chili.

If you invest enough time in paella, you convince yourself, provided you are not Spanish, that you must have an actual Spanish person eat it. You do this because you need to validate your particular paella; you need to confirm that it is bona fide.

So you will invite a Spanish person to dinner, to eat your paella, compliment you, and validate your taste. Perhaps this person is a co-worker, a neighbor, an in-law. It doesn't matter.

As they enter the house, this Spanish person and his wife, you feel a bit nervous: what if they don't like the paella? Is it even remotely like the paella they have had in Vallencia? or Havana? Maybe they're not Spanish but Cuban. Is Cuban pallea the same as Vallencian paella?

You take their coats and invite them into the dining room. The paella is nearly complete - its a one pot meal, and keeps very well, so everything is prepared. You have even secured a good bottle of sherry. Not just any sherry: Hildalgo Doloroso Especial. This sherry is a fine Spanish dry sherry, nothing like the sweet cream sherries most Americans know, sweet cream sherries imposed on us by the taste of the British. No, this is fine sherry, dry and complex, something the Spanish people will appreciate. You have been told in no uncertain terms that paella is always accompanied by sherry in Spain.

As you seat the Spanish man and his wife, this bottle of sherry sits in the center of the table. You ask the Spanish man what he wants to drink, a formality, since he will obviously enjoy the sherry with his paella. The Spanish man says something not entirely understandable. His accent is thick. You can't make it out, but at first it sounds Germanic. It does not sound like a Romance language. He repeats it, two or three times. Its a guttural word, one syllable. Its definitely not "sherry". This man is Cuban, he has not been to America for 23 years, he has not been allowed to travel. He is asking for something he had in America 23 years ago, something he remembers fondly, something he wants to drink with his paella.

You realize this man is saying "Pabst".

All your illusions vanish. You understand that paella is just so many syllables; perhaps it is really just chicken with rice, in Valencia: Arroz con Pollo. You don't have Pabst. You have not prepared for this eventuality; no one ever wrote that a true Spaniard, a Valencian, a Havanan, eats his paella with Pabst.

After a quick trip to the refrigerator you start to relax, you start to enjoy this man's company, notice that his wife is charming, that he has a lot to say. He tips his Rolling Rock and you listen to the music of his wife's accent, as the paella slips away, to the (faint)accompaniment of Valencian castanets.