Let’s face it: running Saturday morning errands is no one’s idea of a good time. Unless you can figure out a way to be near Harbor City at lunchtime. Then it can turn out to be one of Southern California’s great pleasures.
That’s thanks to Juana Gimeno Faraone, a native of Valencia, Spain, who settled in Southern California in 1967. Not finding the Spanish food products she needed to feed her family, she began importing them herself, opening La Española Meats in 1982 in this little city just north of San Pedro.
And because it was so difficult to find an authentic paella to measure up to Faraone’s standards, in 1995 she began making her own, selling it Saturdays to customers who stopped by the shop to stock up on ingredients.
Almost 20 years later, paella Saturdays are still going strong at La Española, and this weekend, the 73-year-old Faraone herself happened to be working the pan. She has trained others to do the cooking, but still comes in every Saturday she’s in town to make sure it’s done to her standards. And regardless of whether she’s there or not, the paella is always made according to her recipe.
Perfectly cooked Bomba rice, stained yellow with saffron and studded with several kinds of chorizo, chunks of pork, chicken, mussels, shrimp, piquillo peppers and squid, the paella was cooked in a back room on a much-used copper pan a yard across.
One can’t live on paella alone, though -- even on one this wonderful -- so she’d also prepared a batch of fabas con almendras (dried fava beans cooked with tiny clams). And there were some croquetas as well. To start, maybe some of the mixed spiced olives, or a plate of that chorizo, sliced thin?
In La Española’s early days, all of those wonderful sausages and hams from Spain were not allowed to be imported, so Faraone began making her own, packaged under -- what else? -- the Doña Juana brand.
The world has changed a lot since then. We now can buy fine chorizos at supermarkets (indeed, many of them are still made by Doña Juana). Faraone is not at La Española as much as she used to be. Her son-in-law, Alex Motamedi, ably fills in, explaining the meats, cheeses, wines, olive oils and assorted conservas of vegetables and fish jammed chockablock in the tiny storefront.
But Saturdays are still special. Pick up a couple of plates of food and maybe a bottle of wine and retreat to the picnic tables set up under the vine-shaded bower beside the store.
Just one more Saturday chore checked off your list.
La Española Meats, 25020 Doble Ave., Harbor City, (310) 539-0455.