Traditional dishes: much more than paella
You’ve arrived in Valencia. You've visited the beaches, the stunning old quarter and the luminous City of Arts and Sciences. After all this activity, a little ‘rumbling’ in your stomach reminds you that it's time to eat. Congratulations, you are in one of the hot spots for Mediterranean cuisine, boasting a surprising collection of delicious dishes. All new to you? Not to worry. Here’s a list of the most authentic.
Paella and other rice dishes
The finest local culinary contribution to the galaxy is the world-famous paella. You’ll find it prepared beautifully here, faithful to the original recipe (of course), which emerged not far away, in the area around La Albufera Lagoon. It requires frying chicken and rabbit over low heat with grated tomato, traditional vegetables (lima beans and green beans) and a pinch of paprika. Then water is added, and the mixture is brought to a boil to produce a delicious broth. The rice is then added and simmered for around 20 minutes. It is important to keep it on the heat until the end to form that delicious crispy layer on the bottom, known as the socarrat.
Although it is our best known, paella is not the only acclaimed dish featuring one of the region's star ingredients: rice (arroz in Spanish and arròs in Valencian). Don’t miss out on other classics such as arroz a banda, which owes its name to the tradition of serving the fish used to prepare the fumet in which the rice is cooked separately (a banda, in Valencian); arroz del senyoret, with peeled prawns; arroz negro, made with cuttlefish ink; and paella de marisco, seafood paella with squid, clóchinas (delicious local mussels), prawns and langoustines.
Made using vermicelli noodles instead of rice, but also with seafood and cuttlefish, fideuà is another very popular dish.
Arroz al horno
Not as well know, but paradoxically, a favourite among locals, arroz al horno is rice baked with pork ribs, fresh bacon, blood sausage, tomato, potato, chickpeas and a clove of garlic.
Arròs amb bledes is a brothy rice, traditional in farming areas, with chard, tavella (a variety of white bean), chunks of potato and turnip, and Mediterranean snails.
Arròs amb fesol i naps
And to finish off our rice section, we mustn’t forget arròs amb fesol i naps, a magnificent example of a stew-type rice dish. This brothy/creamy dish is based on the magical combination of white beans, turnips and pork.
One thousand and one clay ramekins
There is a very Valencian custom of serving many of the local dishes in clay ramekins.
In the case of all-i-pebre, eel stew flavoured with paprika and chilli, it is all about dipping the bread. In the El Palmar district of Valencia, they nail it.
Esgarraet, titalina y espencat
Esgarraet is a sage combination of roasted pepper with chunks of cod, olive oil and sliced garlic. Titaina is along the same lines, but this time the pepper is combined with tonyina de sorra (salted tuna belly), a traditional ingredient in fishing quarters and El Cabanyal neighbourhood. Espencat combines delicious local garden produce: roasted red peppers, eggplant and onions, as well as cooked tomatoes. The vegetables are cut into strips and seasoned with olive oil, garlic and parsley. They are sometimes served with pine nuts, capers or black olives.
A little of this and that to finish off
Buñuelos de bacalao
Another tasty option are buñuelos de bacalao, cod fritters served on their own … or in good company (with all-i-oli, aioli). Scrumptious.
A very common homemade dish in the area is puchero, the Valencian version of cocido (chickpea stew). It is enjoyed as two courses: first the soup and then the meat and vegetables, served separately.
Cocas de tomate y pimiento are the city’s watchword. These flatbreads topped with tomato and pepper are absolutely delicious and more than a pizza, although you may not be familiar with them. In addition to restaurants, you will find them at countless bakeries around the city.
If something has caught your eye, check the menu at the city’s restaurants because many of them serve these true delicacies. You won't go hungry.