A holiday in Spain is all about the food. Oh, and there’s the art, the nightlife, the beaches, the countryside, the beautiful people, but really it’s all about the food. It’s one of the great world cuisines, and as you eat your way around the country you find some amazing regional variations.
I’ve just spent the last three days chowing down in Valencia on Spain’s Mediterranean coast. Valencia is the name of both a region and that region’s largest city. Their cuisine is famous even among the Spaniards, not the least because the national dish paella originated in Valencia. The saffron-infused rice mixed with seafood or meat is a staple here, and Valenicans say they make the only true paella, all others being arroz con cosas (“rice with things”).
So is Valencian paella the only true paella? I don’t know, but it’s damn good. And it comes in many varieties that are hard to find elsewhere. The one shown here is pretty standard, in the sense of “awesome in the usual way.” If you notice, though, you’ll see that half the base isn’t rice but pasta. Valencia has long historical ties to Italy and I sense an Italian flair to a lot of the cooking here. Another paella I tried was Arroz de Señoret, in which the shrimp was already peeled. Sort of a lazy man’s paella.
%Slideshow-3070%Of course there’s plenty more on the Valencian plate. Another local delicacy is orxata, which is pronounced and looks like horchata from Mexico. While the Mexican drink can be made from many things, usually rice, the Valencian drink is always made with tigernuts. It’s often served with a farton. Once you stop snickering about the name (it took me a while) you’ll find it to be sort of like a glazed donut shaped like a bread stick. It’s good for dipping in the orxata.
In addition to local specialties, Valencia has plenty of what makes Spanish cuisine in general famous: good cheese, endless varieties of pork and, of course, the famous Valencian oranges.
Those oranges get put into a favorite local drink, agua de Valencia, which is a refreshing mix of orange juice and cava (Spanish champagne). It’s a perfect drink while sitting at an outdoor cafe on a hot day. Beware: many of the more touristy places charge hefty amounts for a pitcher of orange juice with only trace amounts of cava.
While the region of Valencia is not as famous for wine as regions such as Rioja, wine production is expanding and both their red and white whites are beginning to gain more respect and distribution. They’re also producing a large number of craft beers. The national beers in Spain are all mediocre lagers, perfectly good on a hot day but not satisfying for your typical beer snob. Now microbreweries are cropping up in Valencia and other regions and making pale ales, brown ales, bitters, wheat beers and all the other styles typically found in more northern countries.
So if you find yourself on Spain’s southwestern coast, check out Valencia. Your stomach will thank you.