loren Eric Swanson: Ayo's Paella

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Ayo's Paella

One of our favorite places to eat in the world--at least the countries we've been to is "Chiringuito de Ayo" (Ayo's Snackbar--picture grapvines for your ceiling and beach sand for the floor) on Burriana Beach in Nerja Spain. Liz and I have been to Spain on four different occassions and we always find ourselves at Ayo's. Ayo is now 70 years old and every day for nine months of the year (he spends the months of October, February and May vacationing in Cuba) he prepares 5-15 giant pans of paella, each of which contain 70-80 portions of paella.

Every day in Nerja our routine included walking down the beach, at around 2pm, to Ayo's for paella cooked over an open fire. Ayo has it down to a science, filling the pan first with a couple of bottles of olive oil, then adding the chicken, then the long-grain rice, red and green peppers, onions, garlic, whole peeled tomatoes, chicken stock, safron, spices and then finally the shrimp, clams and a few mussels. It's quite a site to behold. Ayo dishes up a huge plate of paella for 6 euros and the best thing is you can bring your plate up as many times as you want for seconds (or thirds).

The last day we were in Nerja, Liz and I packed our suitcases, checked out and walked one last time down to Ayo's. It was early for a Spanish lunch (noon) so after a couple of plates of paella we talked to Ayo about his life. He sent someone for his photo album and for the next 20 minutes walked us through some highlights of his life. He was a track star as a young man and when he was 19 he was one of the first to enter into the caves of nerja (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caves_of_Nerja) after a buddy of his discovered the small opening to the cave. These caves are incredible--occupied by humans as early as 25,000 BC and are home to some of the earliest cave paintings. Ayo and a handful of his mates guided the first archeologists into the caves and since that time have hosted kings and queens as well as world celebrities.

Why do we like Ayo's so much? I think that any time you meet a person who loves what he or she does and is so good at what they do, it merits one's attention. For the past forty years, seven days a week, Ayo has been putting on his white shirt, apron, shorts and binding rice boxes around his shins (like greaves), under futbol stockings, to protect him from the heat of the open fire and does what he does best--delighting his customers with food that they love. Take a look at the videos. I think you'll understand a bit more of what I'm writing about.


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