Ah, Valencia, the Spanish heaven. It is so easy to surrender to this dreamlike sensation of… home, and it is so hard to leave. The city breathes with history, Spanish hospitality, this sweet Mediterranean breeze and fantastic cooking smells. Let’s take a walk down these streets and see what the local cuisine has to offer.
Take a trip down Carrer de l'Arquebisbe Mayoral to taste the best paella in Spain! The place is called Navarro, a large but cozy restaurant decorated in modest pastel colors. Don’t let the décor simplicity fool you – the food here is outstanding. Be sure to reserve a table in advance, especially in the high season, but I digress. Paella is not just a rice dish – it’s a symbol of Valencia and a huge source of national pride. Like pasta, or say pizza, paella comes in many forms and can be cooked with a variety of ingredients from meat and seafood to a straight up veggie mixture. The core – Bomba rice, green beans, and olive oil – usually remains the same. There are lots of variants on the menu, but the best way to get the gist of the dish is to order paella mixta – the mixture of rice, seafood, and chicken. Don’t forget to ask for a bottle of local wine or a carafe of sangria on a hot summer day!
If you want to go fully authentic, you just have to try the mother of all paella - paella valenciana! This is pure history on a plate. Traditionally cooked with rabbit, chicken, saffron and snails on top of the usual rice and beans mixture the dish generates a full scale thermonuclear explosion of taste and texture in your mouth! Folks at Navarro will politely ask you whether you are allergic to any of the ingredients and will leave them out if you wish so. Be sure to order the dish beforehand though, as it takes ages to prepare.
A nice seafood paella, or paella de Marisco, is served at Casa Carmela, right by the beach. This particular version – also known as the fisherman’s paella - is cooked with shellfish and shrimps, so be prepared to work your way to this tender goodness. As a neat little bonus, you can watch the chef cook your paella, and even take a picture or too. Oh, and don’t forget to ask for wooden spoons to taste the dish as it is.
Paella is the most commonly served dish in Valencia, right next to street food and pizza. If you are in a hurry or find the prices at Navarro or Casa Carmela too high (which you shouldn’t), there are myriads of tiny spots – like es. paella – that offer paella as a takeaway.
Valencia is a coastal region of Spain so – if you have a soft spot for Mediterranean - the mere amount of fish and seafood dishes can send you to overdrive. Even the tiniest towns can boast of unique and, at times, very original recipes. Among the gems of Spanish Mediterranean cuisine, such as suquet (stewed fish and potatoes), all i pebre (eel with potatoes and red pepper) and esgarraet (red pepper and cod salad), be sure to check the traditional fish cassola as served by Mood Food. This mouthwatering fish and shrimp casserole with tomatoes, beans and garlic is designed to kill your hunger fast and without remorse! The place itself may look like an average diner, but the people there are more than friendly and the prices are fairly moderate.
Here’s one for the barflies. Tapas are a traditional Spanish bar snack or appetizer. The word ‘tapa’ can mean a variety of cold and hot dishes, that, when combined, can substitute a hearty meal. In fact, tapas are not that typical for Valencia. Unlike Madrid or Seville locals, people in Valencia rarely go bar crawling to try different tapas in each new place. Valencia locals usually spend the whole evening in one bar or restaurant, ordering a lot of tapas at once. If you are in a mood to experiment, you should definitely try the fusion tapas as served at La Comisaría on Plaza del Árbol. It is a fine mixture of Mediterranean and Asian cuisine and an explosion of flavor. Cheese, olives, tomatoes, shrimps, pork bellies, beef, oysters… You name it – they’ll have it. Fusion tapas go well with the local Turia Märzen beer. Thank me later.
Without any doubt, the most typical drink of this Spanish region is the horchata, which is made from earth almonds. Horchata is considered to be one of the oldest beverages in the world. Egyptian pharaohs often drank earth almond milk. Some were even buried with jars containing this delicious drink. Even Salvador Dali was crazy about horchata! Earth almonds are collected, processed, crushed and pressed to produce juice. Add some sugar and there you have it. As a rule, locals prefer to drink the beverage with fartons - sugar powder covered pastries to dip in the horchata. Though the drink is literally served at every corner, we strongly recommend you to try it at an Horchateria. Horchateria Santa Catalina and Orxata Daniel are the best places in Valencia not only to enjoy the drink but to stop, get some air and feel this relaxing atmosphere of the city that’s been there for 2000 years and will stay there long after we’re gone.