Spanish Paella Festival Launch Party (Invited)

Sunday, May 14, 2017 Sharon Halim 0 Comments

The Dairy Hall over at Queen Victoria Market was transformed into something else. It is exactly the same place, but more magical. It was like entering a portal into an alternate dimension. It was dim and quiet, the acoustic guitar replaced the merchant yelling their discounted produces. It was as if the market itself was in slumber, and we are entering its reverie. It's all was open for a night of Spanish festivities for the Paella Competition Semi-Finals.

We wet our whistle with wine, red and white, and a spanish lager, Estrella Galicia, set the mood just right. And if that was not generous enough, there was a very sexy stand, with a table beaming white, serving mojito. But not the usual one. This was made with craft vodka, made from fermented sugarcane, which made it a very ideal substitute of rum. A very elegant touch.

The festivities began with an assortment of light finger food, most noticeably, an impressive leg of Jamรณn serrano on display. A hard cheese platter with an assortment of crackers and grapes surrounded the leg. The ham itself was beautifully salty and went perfectly with the crisp crackers. They Jamon was very thinly cut right in front of us, from a beautiful pork hind leg, aged to perfection in 18 months. For a second, I forgot that I was in a paella competition and nearly gorged on the serrano and blue cheese.

The MC opened the night, and livened the atmosphere as he called out for volunteers for the tomato squashing competition. Yes, you've read that right, tomato squashing. 3 lucky contestants took off their footwear and proceeded to jump and basically mash, the 3 large buckets of tomatoes by the stage. The lucky winner received a 2 litre vat of olive oil - wow. 

Next was the oyster, which I would nickname, the Balinese girl. She has viola tricolor resting on her ear as a garnish. Served upon a bed of white rock salt. Whatever pickled juice they put on it, definitely not lemon, was sour with hint of sweetness, completely erasing any fishy trace form the oyster. From now on, I swear fealty to a new way of eating oyster, cursing lemon as nothing short of heretic.

Plates of finger food were rolled out. My favourite was definitely the kingfish ceviche with salsa verde and pomegranate seeds. The tanginess of the salsa verde went so well with the ceviche - absolutely loved it! Whilst waiting a long time for the paellas to be ready, these ceviches tided me over (I took 3 of them!). Kudos to the caterers for the event. Then the  mini pie came in, I forgot what it was. Completely not memorable.Next was the chorizo on spoon. Not bad, but doesn’t stand out from the other dish.

Deep fried goat cheese with fig jam. I love cheese, but even then, goat cheese is usually too strong for me. But frying it emphasizes the goaty taste in a gentle manner. It is still there, I know. Strong enough to maintain its character, but gentle enough embrace everyone. The sweet fig jam certainly adds into the complexity of the flavors. They are in complete harmony. None overpowering another, each is distinct, yet one made perfect through the others.

Tiger prawn on mango salsa. My first bit was on the tiger prawn, didn’t use the salsa at all. If you serve my favourite food in my favourite way, nothing can go wrong. The prawn, the garlic, everything that is good about the universe, was there. But that is before I combined it with the salsa. For my second prawn, I pull out the wooden skewer and pressed it down until the prawn was submerged into the mango salsa. When, it entered my mouth, I just feel that the words “perfecter” and “perfectest” should be added into dictionary. (adjective) having the quality of tiger prawn on mango salsa.

Finally, the paellas were served! I first tried the Rabbit and Snail paella cooked up by the contestant, Miguel. I was a little wary as I don't usually like gamey meats - but I was pleasantly surprised that the rabbit just tasted maiwas surprised that the rabbit really just tasted of chicken. Not sure if this was any good for people who love rabbit though! It was not easy to pull the snail from the shell. I had to dirtied my left hand by touching the shell and used my right hand to pull out the meat using a small plastic fork. Once you got the hang of it, it is doable, but I prefer to keep my hands clean. The result was just okay. The brown-red paella, although pretty good, was a little too soggy for me. The chef had used 2 large sprigs of rosemary and I unfortunately did not really lime the resulting pungent, herby taste of the paella. But it definitely wins as the most unique paella combination I've ever tasted.

Chicken and chorizo paella by Milton. I approached Milton as he cooked the paella. He had a loving, grandfatherly-looking aura to him, and he tried to tell me about the contents of his massive paella. He described the contents, telling me that he had included chicken, chorizo and caramale. I perused my internal food vocabulary for the word caramale - nope didn't find any. So I thought it was caramel. How unique was that - caramel in a paella?! I repeated caramale to him to make sure I got it right - and he nodded excitedly. Not wanting to disturb him any further, I moved away and chowed down on my small platter of his beautiful, golden paella. It was cooked wonderfully, and the rice was soft whilst still retaining a lovely bite to it that I appreciate. The chorizo was what made the dish stand out for me. Its smokiness was permeated to every single morsel of rice that I ate - the chorizo was so infused to the paella that the actual chorizo bits were rather pale - almost chicken-coloured pale! The smokiness of the chorizo complimented the freshness from the sprinkling of peppers in the dish. And folks, to my disappointment or joy, there was no caramel to be found! My knowledge of working Spanish is obviously not very great. Caramale, does not mean caramel, or even caramello  (those candies from woolies - haha) which sounds a lot like caramale in my opinion . It is calamari. Calamari. Boy did I laugh. The tiny chunks of calamari, was barely visible but you could definitely notice it as you chow down. It  provided a great contrast of texture from the rice, chorizo and chicken.

It was definitely a fun and lively festival that I would love to attend more often at QVM. This is one of the reasons why I love Melbourne so much with all the festivity and multicultural communities.

Queen Victoria Market
513 Elizabeth
Melbourbe, VIC 3000