Origin: Valencia, Alicante
Arroz a banda is original from Alicante, and it's main ingredients are rice, fish and saffron. However its genesis is much older, the Greeks, after learning to use fire to cook the fish, after acquiring saffron from the Middle East and after the cauldron was invented, already had similar preparations.
Such a concoction is even mentioned in Greek mythology in Hellas, when Aphrodite and Hephaestus got married. It was not a happy marriage, as Hephaestus was a jealous man, and Aphrodite was a free woman who gave her affections to whomever she wished. To gain some liberty at times, Aphrodite gave her husband a dish of saffron and fish, which had soporific effects so he would sleep heavily.
Back in Spain, the fishermen from Alicante had been mixing fish, garlic, olive oil, saffron and parsley in their cauldrons for ages. The broth that they made was called "caldero" which in the Spanish language means cauldron, taking its name from the container it which it was cooked. This means that arroz a banda is a version of this. This dish came about basically as soon as rice began to be consumed in Spain after it was brought to the country.
This didn't happen until the Moor invasion, as Spanish tended to look down on it as an inferior cereal, used mostly as material for a liniment used to cure skin conditions. So when rice was added to caldero, the people would divide the rice from the broth and eat it separately. In fact that's what a banda means "apart " in Catalan. Basically it was an ingenious way to obtain two dishes instead of one.
There is a contending theory however, popular among the fishermen: the "caldero" would be cooked in a cauldron that was normally placed in a zone of the ship called "banda".
The broth for arroz a banda is prepared with cheap and common fish (remember, this dish was originally developed by fishermen!) mainly any variety of small rock fish which have lots of fish bones but also lots of taste. As it happens the value of these fish was very low, so they constituted the fishermen's sustenance as any more pricey fish they sold in the market.
Arroz a banda is often served with alioli sauce which complements the flavours of the rice well. Some people even think that the smell of garlic is a great reminder of the sea, however it is probably more likely to be the salty fish in the dish that does this. Nonetheless, this is a true seaside dish and would be a great choice to make if you are spending some time near the Spanish coast and specially if you want to visit Alicante.
Ingredients (four portions):