As is our microstate arrival custom, we went to the town center and took an inventory of all the posted events. Comedy show on Tuesday, Ferrari fest next week, "Fira del Roser" in Sant Julia de Loria this weekend! The exclamation point comes from the fact that right there under the dates and times were the words "GRAN PAELLA POPULAR," which we translated to mean "FAMOUS BIG PAELLA." This isn't usually the main event of the Fair of the Rosary, celebrated the first weekend of each year. Normally, the local cattle are brought down from the mountains and showcased at the fair. However, a statement issued by the town regretfully explained that they had spoken to the farmers and the cows simply couldn't make it down for the event this year.
Other than the livestock exhibition, the fair also features 30 venders selling local beer, honey, preserves, clothing, jewelry and the like. The crowd was thin and the booths seemed sad when we first arrived, early in the day. Some sort of scavenger hunt filled the sidewalks outside with sprinting teenagers and a chocolate-covered-churro stand made the surrounds smell like 'fair' - but the tent remained pretty empty. They say that the whole parish usually shows up, which is around 1,500 people in Sant Julia de Loria. I'd say the bovine stars of the show were sorely missed.
Even still, at around 1:30 (half an hour before the promoted paella time), the staff got to stirring. A corner of the tent was sectioned off by a picket fence and potted flowers. A picnic table was topped with bread, plates, forks, water and(of course) red wine in plastic cups and the paellas were a'cooking. The set-up made it feel like a backyard barbecue and, soon enough, the entire town had flooded in and lined up. Nothing brings a community together like free food. They waited and gabbed as a local news camera man shot footage and our stomach gurgled from the almost torturous aroma. Our second day on the Iberian peninsula, we're not used to eating lunch at 2pm just yet.
You can say the cows made a special appearance after all, along with some chickens and pigs. The tri-meat paella with mushroom and pepper had a ton of flavor and tasted as fresh and homemade as can be. Heaped, steaming hot, onto our plates by a bubbly woman, the paella made me feel like I was at a family gathering of some second or third cousins I never knew I had, but was happy to find out I was related to. "Good rice, right?" one of the organizers asked us with a smile that suggested the question was rhetorical. We nodded and chewed and swallowed our warm welcome to Andorra. "Have more!" he said as he walked away. If we could have fit more in our bellies, we would have.
Paella is actually the Catalan word for "pan" and, around these parts, the term is used to describe any rice dish that's cooked up in a shallow pan over fire, like this. Any expert would take one look at this picture and say that, for such an enormous quantity, the cooks did a fine job - because right there, stuck to the bottom of the pan, is some sacorrat. When we left, they had begun doling out more helpings from the second pan. Inside, outside, all down the sidewalk and in the playground next door, people were sitting, squatting and standing with their plates on the sunny Saturday afternoon - chewing and talking and taking a break only to take a sip of red wine from a plastic cup.