One Saturday soon you may find yourself craving paella and a little day trip. On that Saturday I suggest you get in your car and, with a good and hungry friend, head down the 110 toward Harbor City, home of La Española Meats. You won’t be entirely sure where Harbor City is and, during an engrossing conversation in the car, will realize you have not been paying attention to the exits at all and did you pass it? You will turn around, head back toward the 405, realize that no, you did not in fact pass it, turn around again, then resume your drive and the engrossing conversation.
But don’t worry about the delay. It will only help build up your appetite for paella.
When you park outside La Española, an unassuming building on a dead-end street, your friend will ask you with some incredulity if you have brought her to a warehouse. Actually, you have: the market supplies many of the upscale food shops and tapas restaurants in Los Angeles. But on Saturdays they make paella. There are tables and chairs outside under a cheerful awning, and bambu veneerware plates of paella for a mere $8.50. Big families who clearly have been coming for paella on Saturdays for years sit chatting and eating. You hear that sometimes someone brings a guitar and there is music and maybe a little dancing, but today there will be none.
But that’s okay because: PAELLA. Your Styrofoam takeout container will be loaded with saffron-tinged rice, the plump grains hiding chunks of tender meat and seafood. On the side, a plate of sliced crusty bread, olives and charcuterie. To drink, an orange-flavored Spanish soda called Kas, because that’s what the man inside recommended. You and your friend will get kind of quiet as you start to eat. The filtered sunlight, the briny olives, another bite of paella: Saturday lunchtime bliss.
After eating, you will head inside to check out the market and also the sandwiches, because someone at the table next to you was eating a long, narrow sandwich that looked really freaking good. You and your friend will debate getting a sandwich, decide against it — it really was a lot of paella — and instead sample the various cheeses and cured meats, striking up a conversation with the man who recommended the orange soda. You’ll find out he is the warehouse manager, that he drives all over LA making deliveries to the shops and restaurants which buy the market’s imported products. “Wait — I’ll give you something!” he’ll say after a couple minutes of conversation. You will wait, hoping he returns with a wedge of sheep’s milk cheese or wizened chunk of salume.
Instead he will hand you two thin aerosol cans. You and your friend will look at them. Deodorant spray. Spanish deodorant spray. “I hope you aren’t saying we need this,” you’ll quip and then you’ll all laugh. It will seem to mark the end of the conversation and the two of you will say your goodbyes. As you are leaving, you hear him say to one of the women he works with, “That was the only thing I could give them.” Cheese and cured meats it is not, but you’ll still appreciate the gesture, even if you do end up slipping the can into the box of things going to Goodwill in hopes that it will help out some smelly soul.
And anyway: PAELLA. It will be impossible to not leave La Española happy. I dare you.
25020 Doble Avenue
Harbor City, CA 90710