Taste of a Place – Valencia
We began our tour of Valencia as we begin most town and city tours; by heading straight to the Central Market. This gives us a feel for the city and its people – there is something so interesting about seeing what local people are buying and eating. Also, it usually a good focal point and a means to orientate yourself in a new place. The market in Valencia is quite exquisite, easily the most beautiful we have visited. It’s quite vast with ornate blue and white tiling and a spectacular glass domed roof.
Valencia oranges, are of course, available everywhere in many different varieties, but they are not the only fruit (sorry, couldn’t resist it!). There are literally 1000s of items on sale here. The sheer variety of foods from pickles and olives to patisserie, exotic teas and top of the range iberico jamon and everything in between.
Our only bugbear here was that the central bar is run by a Michelin starred chef. You can easily imagine the offer and the queue to dine there… Personally, we prefer something a bit more down to earth for our coffee/beer but heyho, there is so much to enjoy here!
Speaking of oranges, whilst in the city you have to try Aqua de Valencia. It’s a potent brew of freshly squeezed orange juice, vodka, gin and cava. Its available in every bar. Not sure what the etiquette is, but I didn’t see anyone drinking it in the morning! Probably not a great idea to drink too much of it – the acid in the oranges can be lethal!
A nice afternoon treat is to try a refreshing glass of horchata and a light pastry farton at the beautiful Horchateria Santa Catalina, just off Plaza de la Reina. This elegantly tiled café has been serving this Valencian tiger nut based drink for over 200 years. It may be a little sweet for my taste, but I read recently that it is supposed to lower cholesterol, so maybe it is good for you, after all!
Valencia has numerous bars to suit all tastes. We have fairly eclectic tastes, so visited a few! A couple of our favourites were Bocatin, with a selection of over 70 vermouths and a pincho of your choice included with your drink.
Also, Tasca Angel serving fabulous bone free sardines, cooked really simply on the plancha, with garlic and parsley oil. The host has a fairly sardonic go hang with an interesting standing policy. Recommended!
After some research about where to find an authentic Paella, we headed over to El Cabanyal, the fisherman’s quarter, several kilometres from the centre (we walked, but there is a metro and a great bus service). The advantage of walking is that you get to see the old tiled fisherman’s houses, which lend a cheerful character to the place.
It was a chilly morning when we visited, so we paid a quick visit to the local market and found a great bar just outside, MiSitio. The staff were all charming and we got to try the fisherman’s winter warmer, a “Quemadito” (meaning, it burns a little/little burner). A great combination of espresso, rum, sugar and coffee beans, it certainly put a spring in our step and spurred us along in our quest…
We headed to the seafront and found our destination, Casa Carmela and happily they managed to squeeze us in. Here the paella is cooked traditionally, over fire. This smart restaurant apparently is a favourite of the queen and they created a vegetable version for her (as she is vegetarian).
We were also lucky enough to visit the kitchen, to see the bank of chefs and paellas being prepared (I think this was because I had my nose pressed against the glass!). It was hot, hot, hot, but the smell was glorious!!
All the rices have a base of squid and monkfish. We opted for a paella “con rojos”, which came topped with a pair of carabineros (large red prawns) and we ate directly from the pan, which makes for a great social experience, but perhaps only with someone you love (and trust).
I can only say of the paella that it was exquisite. It had a rich, almost buttery flavour. We both agreed we had never tasted anything like it. The famous socarrat (crispy bits that cling to the pan) was just so tasty and satisfying. Our waiter was right when he said this paella will spoil all subsequent ones – we may never try another!
To sum up, we only had a short time in Valencia, but there is an abundance of things to do and places to visit. We spent most of our time in the old town, but there is also the famous science park and I believe, an amazing aquarium. Also, I mustn’t neglect to note, they claim to have the actual Holy Grail housed in a small chapel at the cathedral…one for the next trip!