Spain has a rich and diverse landscape, from the Picos de Europa mountain range in the north to the Tabernas desert in the south. The surrounding seas are abundant with life, so it is little wonder Spanish cuisine has become so popular globally, says Chris Cooper in this mini guide to what to eat and drink in Valencia.
The Mediterranean diet is commonly regarded as one of the healthiest in the world and in Valencia we are able to enjoy it to the fullest. Some places are famed for certain foods and here are a few highlights of Valencian food and drink – and, more importantly, where to find it:
1. Clóchinas – Valencia
Mussels in Spanish is mejillones. Clóchinas are VERY similar. Never, ever make the mistake of referring to clóchinas as mejillones in front of a local. It just isn’t worth the time. Accept that they are different and enjoy the rest of the day.
Clóchinas are specific to Valencia and caught in the sea on the Valencian coast. Preparation is simple and the results are generally very tasty. Cooked in their own juice with a little garlic, lemon and sometimes paprika and bay leaves, it is a very popular dish in Valencian restaurants.
Clóchinas are in season from the end of April to the end of August.
2. Bobal grapes – Requena/Utiel
Over an hour inland from Valencia the vineyards of Requena/Utiel are found. Some 80% of the grapes used are a red grape called bobal. The wine is generally quite low in alcohol at around 11% and has a pleasing, fruity taste. Wines are sold throughout the region and prices for a bottle range from a couple of euros to over twenty. Hu-ha is a great inexpensive bobal wine at €3-4 per bottle, found in Consum, and Lo Necesario is a lovely mid-priced to expensive drop at around €13 per bottle. The Murviedro winery offers a tour of their old cellars and explains the wine-making process before offering some wine-tasting. They even throw in a bottle of red and a nice wine glass. The cellars can be found on Plaza de Albornoz in Requena, and entry is €7 per person.
3. Sausages – Requena
As well as good quality wines, Requena is famed for its sausages. Sausages such as chorizo and morcilla (black pudding) are produced here but it is particularly renowned for longaniza.
Similar to chorizo, though longaniza swaps paprika for black pepper. It is widely available in supermarkets and is a fine addition to any barbecue.
Each February, Requena celebrates the Muestra del Embutido Artesano y de Calidad”, the artisan and high-quality sausage show, where thousands of kilos of sausages are eaten. It is a good idea to have a glass or two of bobal to calm the nerves before attending one of the largest sausage fests in Spain.
4. King Prawns – Vinaròs
Prawns come from the sea. I know, astonishing, right? But the famed Vinaròs king prawns come from the sea around Vinaròs. Located in the far north of Castellon, Vinaròs is the last coastal town before Cataluña and the Ebro Delta. The king prawns get their high quality as a result of the town’s location. The Ebro lowers the salinity of the sea. Add the mild Mediterranean climate to this and the resulting prawns are large, meaty and tasty.
August is the best time to visit Vinaròs as the beaches don’t get too crowded and the clear sea takes on some remarkable blue and green hues. It’s also when the Fiesta del Langostino is held.
Tasting stalls are set up along the sea-front and in the recently renovated market.
There are regular daily trains to Vinaròs and the trip takes from an hour and twenty minutes to two and a half hours, depending on which service you use.
5. Artichokes – Benicarló
Located between Vinaròs and Peñiscola, Benicarló is a small agricultural town on the coast. The main crop is the artichoke.
Artichokes from Benicarló have held the Denominación de Origen Protegida, signifying high quality produce, since 1998.
The season for these delicious, nutrient packed vegetables is from mid-November to late May or early June. The Benicarló/Peñiscola train station is just one stop from Vinaròs.
6. Rice – The Albufera
Paella is Valencia’s, if not Spain’s, most famous dish. There are many arguments as to where paella originated but it is widely believed to have been in the village of El Palmar in the 15th century. Nowadays, it is hard to find a local restaurant which does not feature paella on its menu. Add to this a host of other rice-based dishes such as arroz al horno (baked rice) and arroz a banda (seafood rice) and it becomes abundantly clear that rice is in high demand.
The train from Valencia to Gandia runs through the paddy fields of the Albufera and it is a pleasure to look at the clouds reflected in the watery fields as you whizz by.
There are dozens of excellent restaurants serving paella in Valencia. Casa Carmela, by Malvarrosa beach and the Alquería del Pou in La Punta are two to be particularly savoured.
7. All i Pebre – The Albufera
The Albufera natural park and lake is one of the most popular attractions in Valencia. Just 15km south of the city, the lake is easy to reach by car, bus or bike, thanks to a bike lane running down the coast. The area is protected in a bid to conserve its natural beauty. Romantic boat rides to watch the sunset are common in summer. In the past, eels were fished here and a popular Valencian dish, all i pebre (garlic and pepper) originated in the town of Catarroja, on the shores of the Albufera.
Eels, jellied or otherwise, may not appeal to everyone but the most popular way to prepare them in Valencia is in the all i pebre sauce.
Most restaurants in Catarroja and El Palmar serve all i pebre but it is also widely available in the city, should you wish to try it.
8. Turrón – Alicante and Jijona
First brought to Spain by the Moors, turrón is a nuggety sweet primarily made up of almonds and honey. There are two principal types of turron: blando (soft) and duro (hard). The soft turrón has an almost powdery texture and was first made in the town of Jijona in the province of Alicante. The hard version’s fame comes from Alicante city and is sticky and crunchy. No Valencian Christmas lunch is complete without at least a couple of bars of each to break open with the family around the table.
9. Horchata and Fartons – Alboraya
Famous throughout Spain and the Americas, horchata is tiger nut milk, manufactured in Alboraya and the northern farmlands of Valencia. It is a refreshing drink and, more often than not, comes accompanied by sugared finger buns known as fartons. The idea is to dunk the cartons in the horchata to enhance the experience.
Horchateria Santa Catalina in the city centre of Valencia is a famous place to give it a try.
10. Oranges – Comunidad Valenciana
Valencia is situated on the Costa Azahar of Spain, which literally translates as “the orange blossom coast”. Oranges are grown all over the three provinces and are Valencia’s top export of any food or drink. The climate and the type of earth found in the region is why oranges grow so well here, and it is not uncommon to receive gifts of enough oranges for three lifetimes from proud Valencian friends.
Spain has a history of fine wines and food, each region having its own specialities, and Valencia is no exception. So get out there and fill your boots – and your stomachs…
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