Both traditionally minded I Love Paella USA and fusion-focused Paella’South have found a place at Soda City Market. It's a tale of two paellas: One stays authentic to its Spanish roots, and another draws on the unique experiences of its maker.
Founded by husband and wife team Estela Landaverde and Paco Lopez, I Love Paella USA resulted from a failed search for authentic paella in South Carolina.
“[Paco] would say, ‘Oh, I love paella, and we have to find a place where we can have paella,'” Landaverde said. “He made it his mission to find it, and when he couldn’t, he made it himself.”
Learning to make a truly authentic paella took time. There was research to be done and ingredients to be sourced. According to Landaverde, it was a "two-year process," but her husband has now mastered the dish.
I Love Paella USA does not just claim to be authentic; it has the accolades to back it up. Lopez said they were certified by the Paella Association of Spain.
I Love Paella USA brought its paellas to the Concurs International de Paella Valencia’s American festival. It walked away with a certificate deeming its paella authentic due to its preparation and genuine ingredients, but not everyone succeeds.
“[Spanish people] are very protective of their traditional paella,” Landaverde said.
The business takes pride in the fact that it uses rice from La Perla Arroz, a small family farm in Valencia, Spain. I Love Paella USA made an agreement with distributors to have the rice shipped to Columbia, and it is now the only one in the state to use that rice.
The authenticity of I Love Paella USA fits right in at Soda City Market.
“We love Soda City for the diversity,” Landaverde said. “It is all-inclusive; everybody is welcome there. I love that there is a space for everybody to share their food.”
The diversity of Soda City lends itself to experimentation with food. Paella’South, a less traditional alternative, also calls Soda City Market home.
“I cooked [paella] since I was a child because my parents were from Spain,” owner Pedro Figueredo said.
Figueredo grew up in Venezuela and credits some of the flavors in his paellas to his South American upbringing.
“[We moved to South Carolina] three years ago, in 2017,” his wife, Ana Figueredo, said. “He was a doctor in surgical orthopedics in Venezuela … So, when we got here, he was trying to find a job. And nobody hired him because he was overqualified.”
Pedro needed something to do while he was in the process of learning English and becoming a doctor in the United States. Ana Figueredo said when thinking about what skills he has, Pedro realized "paella was an option.”
Their paellas draw on the experiences of the owner to create unique flavor profiles and memorable experiences.
“Paella’South brings the flavors from South America to the United States and the tradition from Spain,” Pedro Figueredo said.
Southern flavors influence the offerings at Paella’South. There is even a paella that was inspired by USC student requests. According to Pedro, university students asked for sausage and spice, hence the reason their recipes have evolved to be spicier and include sausages and rice from America.
One might think the two paella vendors would be competing with each other at Soda City, but this is not the case.
“It’s friendly," Pedro Figueredo said. "But we don’t have relations. They are very different from us."
Landeverde at I Love Paella USA said the two "make very different paella." According to Landaverde, paella is a lot like tacos: Different places make different styles.
“I think there's a difference between us two, and we both have agreed that there will be people who will love ours and they'll be people who love his,” Landeverde said. “And that's the beauty of Soda City, that everybody does well there.”
Editor's Note: Interviews with Paco Lopez and Pedro Figueredo were conducted with a translator.