Marks and Spencer has become embroiled in a cultural appropriation row over its “Spanish” croquettes – filled with Spain’s national dish.
The grocer has introduced the “Spanish chorizo paella croquetas” to its upmarket “collection” range and claims they are “handmade in Spain”.
But the British ambassador to Spain has led a backlash, with critics describing the dish as “wrong on every level”, in the latest cultural dispute to hit British kitchens.
Paella originated in Valencia, a rice-growing region of Spain’s Mediterranean coast, and includes a mixture of chicken, rabbit and snails with green and white beans.
However, it has become popularised with seafood, chorizo or vegetables in other regions and neighbouring countries.
Croquettes are traditionally French but are cooked with Serrano ham in parts of Spain.
M&S is now trying to combine the two, a novel idea that features “paella rice, smoky chorizo, saffron and a creamy bechamel sauce”, according to the packaging.
Simon Hunter, a journalist based in Madrid, posted a picture of the M&S product on X, formerly known as Twitter, with the caption “NO NO NO”, which has been viewed 30,000 times and provoked anguished responses.
Hugh Elliott, the British ambassador to Spain, waded in, writing in Spanish: “Chorizo, yes! Paella, yes! Croquetas, yes! Yes! All together? …. M&S, what have you done?”
Phil Dickinson, a Spanish interpreter for football clubs, wrote: “Wrong on every level. Just call them arancini with chorittzzo.”
Omar Allibhoy, a Spanish chef and the founder of Tapas Revolution, said the idea was “not authentic” but he still supported it.
“Unfortunately I haven’t tried them just yet so I can’t give my opinion on the taste and texture – I’m doing that tonight – and the concept is not revolutionary but definitely clever”, he told The Telegraph.
“Three of the most loved Spanish foods are brought into one so the product developer was bang on the money.
“Where the confusion comes is that paella is lost in translation – in Valencia, where paella comes from, they only call one single dish paella which has rabbit, chicken, runner beans, artichokes and snails.
“Everything else is called arroz – which means rice. In the rest of Spain, that doesn’t apply and we will call it paella if it’s cooked in a paella pan. Ultimately taste, texture, flavour, enjoyment and convenience will speak for itself – let the public be the judge.”
Quique Da Costa, a three-Michelin star chef from Valencia who runs the London restaurant Arros QD, told The Telegraph: “If we refer to Valencian paella, it is almost comical from a locals’ perspective, and from a cultural perspective, practically an offence.
“But it is also true that there is a way to take a broader look at a paella, and that is by making paella rice, where the ingredients can be arranged more freely without offending a traditional recipe.”
He added: “I consider it a sacrilege for arancini, croquette and paella to put 3 different ingredients in such a small thing. I ask myself a question: is it a commercial response to a demand from the British public?”
The row comes after a series of other disputes around British twists on foreign food.
In 2018, Jamie Oliver was forced to defend his “punchy jerk rice” after Dawn Butler, the Labour MP, told him “this appropriation from Jamaica needs to stop”.
The television chef later revealed he hires “teams of cultural appropriation specialists” to vet his cookbooks.
The Great British Bake Off was criticised in 2022 after the hosts wore sombreros, shook maracas and showed tacos and tequila, prompting Thomasina Miers, the owner of the Wahaca chain and author of several Mexican cookbooks, to say Mexican was “one of the most misunderstood cuisines out there”.
Pair with sherry for a delicious Christmas snack, says food writer Xanthe Clay
Spanish Chorizo Paella Croquetas – portmanteau names ring alarm bells, like Italian Pineapple Risotto Pizza, or Chocolate Cherry Cornish Pasties.
But as chef Jose Pizarro says, “I think these people from M&S are clever, because people love chorizo, people love paella and they love croquetas, and you’ve got everything here in one in one place.”
They certainly look right, which is to say pretty boring breadcrumbed logs, exactly as a croqueta should. No one has tried to jolly them up with a wonky candied cranberry or dismal sachet of chutney.
Sadly they lose some of their looks in the oven. Baking rather than deep frying might be far more suitable for home cooking but it makes for a flattened croqueta rather than a nice cylindrical shape.
But the flavour is scrumptious. Creamier than an arancini – the classic deep-fried rice ball – with a deep, smoky chorizo flavour and a proper crisp croqueta coating.
At nearly a quid each (92p), these aren’t cheap, but I still managed to eat three in quick succession. Oops.
The paella connection seems a bit tenuous – there’s a bit of rice, but only enough to give the béchamel filling a nubbly texture, and the flavours of saffron and paprika can be found in lots of Spanish dishes.
According to Pizarro, “Paella would be cooked in a paella pan, and it doesn’t contain chorizo. I make a rabbit, chorizo and rice dish, and it’s delicious but it’s not paella, it’s arroz al horno.”
But what the hell. To this Brit they taste Spanish, delicious, and addictively good.
I can imagine serving these with a glass of sherry (let them cool a little before serving or there will be burnt tongues) as part of a spread of tapas, alongside some olives, a tortilla, and a dish of patatas bravas, say.
Despite the slight collapsing in the oven, you can just about eat them with your fingers, so they would also be lovely with a glass of cava (champagne if you must) before Christmas Dinner. Viva Esp-Ingleterra!