It has been said, the fastest way to someone’s heart is via their stomach. Nowhere is this more true than in Valencia, says Tash Aleksy…
When in Valencia, eat as the Valencians do,” goes the saying. Or maybe it was something about Rome. Still, the concept is the same – gastronomy is such an integral part of any culture that in order to see how a group of people really live, adopting the diet (if you can call it that in Valencia) is a surefire way to immerse yourself in a culturally rich experience.
“Breakfast like a king” is a concept that never made it as far as the Iberian Peninsula. Waking up to the smell of sizzling bacon or pancakes doused in maple syrup is best reserved for trips back home to northern Europe or the American continent. Over here, it’s a case of curasán (the Spanglicised pronunciation of croissant, and you’ll see a few variations of this spelling) or toast with tomato and jamón, but the energy deficit brought on by the distinct lack of calories is counteracted by coffee strong enough to prepare you for a marathon. Even if you have never so much as run for a bus in your life. It may be 9 am, but that doesn’t stop a Valenciano from ordering a Carajillo with the first meal of the day.
The almuerzo (brunch) is emblematic of Valencian culture. Anywhere between 9.30 am and 12 pm after as many as two hours at the office – imagine! – is as good a time as any for an XXL baguette at La Pascuala, with a range of fillings that aren’t – how can I put this delicately? – what spring to mind when you think of a Mediterranean diet. Fried calamares, black pudding and broad beans, or tortilla española if carbs are your thing. Brascada, Chivito and Almussafes are the baguettes that win the bet for a large proportion of Valencianos. Of course, it’s never too early for a beer or a bit of vino, either, as we know from Valencian breakfasts. Expect to see workmen and pensioners cheerfully washing down their baguette with a tercio (a bottle of beer) or a brandy. You have to take the edge off the day after all.
La hora de comer. This is when you can really fill your boots. If you’re a rice and pasta advocate, now’s your moment. Hell, have two lunches. The menú del día in Valencia offers a starter and a main plus all the trimmings for as little as a tenner, and there is no way you are leaving that restaurant hungry. Not least because the starter and the main are full-sized portions. Is it any wonder la siesta accrued such devotion?
It’s still not dinner time, but you can’t be expected to last from 4 pm til 9 pm on three hefty meals earlier on in the day. So get yourself a café con leche and something sweet. Afternoon tea, Valencian-style. You’ll need to keep your energy reserves on full power, as through the night you’re going to have to go a full eight hours without food before breaking your fast – desayunar literally means to break your fast, as it does in English.
Four down, one meal to go. The finish line is in sight. Stay strong, people. La cena can consist of fish or meat or vegetables, usually much lighter than the main comida. Most restaurants won’t even consider serving you before 8 pm, so if your aim is to culturally align with your adopted home, quedamos a las 21h (let’s meet at 9 pm). Dinner out can keep you socialising until the early hours of the morning, and this is the crux of Valencian mealtimes. Food is family, friends and fun, so take your time to enjoy it. Just don’t count the calories. That way, madness lies…
Tash Aleksy runs Spanglish City – this offers online Spanish classes via Zoom in a flexible, pay-as-you-go format. Well-prepared, varied classes in the comfort of your own home. Visit www.spanglishcity.com