Lauded as “the perfect stall” by The Australian, Comida’s tapas bar in the Central Market is well-known for its Spanish fare of tapas, pinxtos, bocadillos (sandwiches) and its paella, but Comida’s chef and proprietor Brad Sappen-Berghs has a surprising confession to make about the famous one-pan dish.
“I actually haven’t had a good one in Spain,” he says. “I’ve had a lot of bad ones. I haven’t been there for a while, so I’m probably due to go back and eat some good ones.”
Comida’s paella is a good one. Arguably the best in Adelaide. But it’s not traditional. “In Spain you would never put chorizo in it,” he says. “With this one we put chicken, chorizo, eggplant, cauliflower and Goolwa pipis in it and then we hit it with heaps of herbs and fresh lemon.
“If we were to take the chorizo out of it all the Aussies would be spewing for sure,” he says. “We’ve contemplated it because you get a Spanish person who sees chorizo in paella and they freak out. The most traditional paellas are from Valencia, and that’s got rabbit, snails and flat beans in it. If I was to put snails in this one, nobody would buy it, would they?”
Plenty of people buy Comida’s paella. It is one of the Central Market’s true dining attractions. As soon as the pan fires up, passers-by make a beeline to the giant pan in the small stall; it’s gastronomic theatre as the rice and ingredients sizzle away on the giant pan.
“People love seeing it cooked, they love the smell. As soon as the garlic hits the pan it draws people in.” Sappenberghs, who owns Comida with his wife Fiona, admits a lot of the stall’s revenue comes from his giant paella pan. He has been long fascinated with Spanish cooking. He was chef at the tapas bar Mesa Lunga for six years and opened Comida, which also has a catering arm, in 2014. Originally, paella was only served on Friday nights at the Market.
“Then it was Friday lunch and Friday night before lunch on Thursdays to Saturdays. Now we’re open Wednesday and we do a vegetarian on a Tuesday — seven paellas all up. It what’s people see. It’s what people want, they can smell it on Grote Street and it brings them down.”
This article first appeared in Hot 100 Wines 2017/2018, now available on the street.
Photography: Josh Geelen