Spanish food and wine are famous the world over and Valencia is at the culinary heartland of this food-loving nation.
A Paradise on Earth for carnivores and seafood lovers, Valencia does not cater so well for vegetarians, although the wealth of fresh fruit and vegetables available in this sun-kissed part of the world mean that hearty vegetable soups and stews are always an option. Wine lovers are bound to be ecstatic during a trip to Valencia, meanwhile – among other choices, the region is a prime producer of the Cava sparkling wine that is increasingly giving Champagne a run for its money.
Spain`s culinary scene is synonymous with Paella – that rich mix of seasoned rice and seafood that is the taste of Spain for countless visitors to the country. But not all paellas are created equal and foodies would be wise to look beyond the obvious and source those versions that are specific to the Valencia region. As well as the traditional seafood paella, which will typically include everything from shrimp and mussels to squid and even octopus, Valencia prides itself on its meat paellas, usually made with rabbit or chicken; and its Arroz a Banda. The latter is a rustic local take on the traditional paella, created by Valencia`s fishermen in centuries past. Here, the fish and seafood and rice are cooked separately, allowing the flavours of each to develop before they are mixed together. The dish is typically served with a pungent garlic and oil sauce, known as all i oli.
Rice is very much a staple part of Valencian cuisine and is never bland. Combined with the local olive oil, fresh garlic, herbs and spices, it is delicious even before the addition of fish, seafood, meat and freshly-sourced seasonal vegetables.
Valencia is also renowned for the quality of its cooked and cured meats – most notably the choriza, a spiced pork sausage. The region`s colourful outdoor markets are an excellent place to sample all manner of local delicacies, from chorizo to fresh olives and local cheeses are also well worth investigating.
Sweet toothed visitors to Valencia will not be disappointed, as the city`s abundant bakeries are packed with fresh sweet pastries, cakes and other treats. The Valencian countryside is dotted with orange and almond groves and these two locally sourced ingredients are very often present in Valencian sweets and desserts.
The temperate climate and good soil conditions also make Valencia perfect territory for cultivating wine grapes and there are some 75,000 hectares of vineyard to be found in the region. A popular local drink is fresh orange juice mixed with Cava (try those from Requena for a good quality sparkler). The wonderfully thirst quenching drink is so refreshing that it is known locally as `Agua de Valencia` – which literally translates as Water of Valencia. Visitors looking to embark on wine tasting tours of Valencia will have plenty of options open to them, with some of the best options to be found in Utiel, Villar del Arzobispo and the afor-mentioned Requena.
Forget fast food and pre-prepared meals, Valencian food and drink is all about making the most of the abundant ingredients that are available locally. Food is a great source of pride to the locals and even the simplest of restaurants will serve up lovingly-prepared dishes accompanied by good, usually very inexpensive, local wine.
Gourmet types will relish the opportunity to take in the rich flavours local to the area and the great news for budget travelers is that delicious local dishes are usually affordable even on the tightest of budgets. At the other end of the scale, Valencia city is increasingly home to chic and sophisticated restaurants, where the monied elite gather to see and be seen.