Valencia is making a name for itself as a culinary travel destination across Europe, growing in popularity as well as gastronomical innovation.
The birthplace of the traditional paella, Valencia continues to attract foodies from all over the world, surprising and delighting them with their offerings.
Traditional Valencian Paella
The first thing to mention is, of course, traditional Valencian paella. The Valencian region is where the famous rice dish originated so trying a perfectly executed traditional paella should be number one on your foodie bucket list. The rice comes from Albufera, the largest freshwater lagoon in Spain located just south of the city.
What may surprise you is what the traditional paella contains. Firstly, let’s debunk a common misconception: traditional paella is not a seafood dish. Instead, it is made up of chicken, rabbit, green beans, and butter beans (garrófo in Valencian!). Depending on the season and the restaurant it is also typical to include artichokes and even snails!
Note also that the typical way to enjoy this dish is at lunchtime and it is very rare to find Valencians eating paella for an evening meal.
Paella on a Budget
My top recommendation for enjoying paella without a huge price tag is Restaurante Canela. Located in the heart of Valencia Old Town, this popular restaurant and tapas bar is always full.
Aside from a very good quality Paella Valenciana, my other favorite here is the tomato and ventresca (tuna-fish) salad.
A Classic Paella Experience
One of the most classic paella establishments is La Pepica, situated on the beachfront. This restaurant is known as one of Valencia’s iconic paella sites, partially for its famous former clientele. Not only did the kings of Valencia used to enjoy their paella here, but it is also known as one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite spots during his time in Valencia!
Paella off the Beaten Track
A lesser-known, but truly delicious spot for paella is Arrocería Duna. This classy restaurant is a great choice for a fancy paella lunch. They have one restaurant situated in the port, with harborside views, and one out of the city on El Saler beach, where you will find the neighboring Albufera lake.
Only in Valencia
Horchata and Farton
Something else quintessentially Valencia is the horchata. This drink is made with chufas (tiger nuts), grown in the fields surrounding the city of Valencia. In fact, Valencia boasts 90% of the world’s production of these nuts! The drink is an acquired taste but favored by Valencians for being sweet and refreshing.
Typically, the drink is enjoyed alongside a farton – a long sponge finger lightly dusted with powdered sugar. It is traditional to dip the farton into the horchata, letting it absorb the liquid before biting into it. This is my personal favorite for cooling down on a hot summer’s day.
I would recommend Horchatería Daniel – the most traditional establishment for horchata. Although they now have a spot in the city center, the artisanal horchata company was born in Alboraya, the home of the chufa fields! Since the 1930s, they have been producing some of the region’s best horchata and fartons!
It is no surprise that Valencia is famous for its oranges. With orange trees lining every street, and orange trees surrounding the city for miles, there is no shortage of delicious oranges.
Arguably the most fun way to enjoy these oranges is in a classic Agua de Valencia. This famous cocktail is a lethal combination of freshly squeezed orange juice, cava, gin, and vodka – think of it as a super-mimosa!
The most traditional place to try this delicious drink is Cafe Madrid, said to be the creator of the cocktail.
Although it is the most famous, Valencian paella is not the only must-taste rice dish whilst in Valencia. I would strongly recommend trying Arroz al Horno (oven-baked rice). This is Valencia’s answer to the classic dish you would enjoy for Sunday lunch at your grandma’s.
Originating from inland Valencia, it is heavily based around meat products. The rice incorporates chickpeas, garlic, tomatoes, potatoes, chorizo, black pudding, and pork ribs. The dish is so famous, in fact, that there is an Arroz al Horno festival annually in one of the region’s cities.
For rice dishes by the coast, seafood is a must. My top recommendation would be Arroz del Senyoret. Literally translated as “gentleman’s rice”, this was born as the ideal seafood rice without getting your hands dirty. Therefore, it is made up of pre-shelled shellfish and pieces of white fish. This dish is best enjoyed by the sea or heading down the coast of Alicante.
Whichever rice dish you choose, look out for the “socarrat”. The burnt bottom of the rice is an extra treat at the end of the meal and many Valencian families fight for this bit! The shallow paella pan and the high heat invariably leaves a layer of crispy caramelized rice at the bottom of the pan, which has become a delicacy in its own right.
Tapas in Valencia
Tapas vs Pintxos
A common confusion is that of tapas versus pintxos.
Pintxos culture originates from the North of Spain. San Sebastian, for example, is known for its rich pintxo culture. This is synonymous with the barra concept – pintxos displayed at the bar and food enjoyed standing around the bar. The word pintxo originates from the verb “pinchar” literally meaning “to pierce”. True to form, a pintxo is something served on a piece of bread and pierced with a skewer to hold it together.
Tapas, on the other hand, is any appetizer, typically shared among the group. They are eaten at the table and enjoyed with drinks. In Valencia, the culture centers around tapas, rather than pintxos.
The Quest for the Perfect Tortilla
One of the most beloved dishes across all of Spain is the Spanish tortilla. Unlike the flat flour tortilla of Mexico and the US, the tortilla in Spain is a type of omelet – always with egg and potato. You will find different varieties across all of Spain although this varies depending on family recipe rather than a specific region of the country. The key is the texture: slightly crispy on the outside, and liquidy in the middle.
In Valencia, the best tortilla, amongst other delicious tapas, can be found in Central Bar. Aside from being located in the heart of Mercado Central, the largest food market in Europe and one of our favourite spots, this trendy bar is run by 2-Michelin-Star chef, Ricard Camarena. He also is the brains behind one of my favourite restaurants in Ruzafa – Canalla Bistro. This trendy spot specialises in unique fusion tapas, inspired by flavours from Asia and South America using locally sourced ingredients.
Not Your Average Tapas Tour
Want to try the best in Valencian tapas in an authentic and truly unique way?
Try an immersive dining experience on a Sea Saffron tour. This award-winning tour company is the brainchild of local Valencian Eduardo Aguilar who aims to combine the best of the region’s gastronomy and wines in a unique and emblematic venue of Valencia.
Explore the city’s origins with one of the team’s passionate hosts, before embarking on a culinary journey in an intimate setting.
For culture vultures, discover the key landmarks of Valencia’s Old Town with your local host, keen to share the stories down every sidestreet. The historic center dates all the way back to 1238 and is steeped in interesting anecdotes. Or, lovers of photography may enjoy the spectacular futuristic masterpiece, the City of Arts and Sciences, designed by Santiago Calatrava.
Whether you opt for modern architecture and a rooftop dinner high above the City of Arts and Sciences or want a taste of history with a unique dining experience in the 11th Century city walls of Valencia Old Town, these experiences offer something special. The 10-course tasting menus are changed seasonally to showcase the best of local ingredients, and all wines chosen are prizewinning wines from the surrounding region.
It is not surprising that this experience has been voted one of the world’s top 10 wine experiences!
Great Produce and Michelin Star Dining
Legacy of Fishing
Valencia is lucky to be home to some incredible produce. This means that the quality of local ingredients is very high.
Traditionally, Valencia was a fisherman town meaning that high-quality fish is readily available. Sea bass is still one of the most representative fish of the region. My top recommendation would be the lubina al sal (salted sea bass) at Bocamada. Located in the trendy district of Ruzafa, this classy restaurant bakes the fish in salt and serves it to you filleted with a selection of different flavored salts and olive oil.
Another fish dish to pay attention to in Valencia is esgarraet. The Valencian word means “tearing” and refers to the ripped red bell peppers and the ripped bacalao (cod fish). The cod fish in this dish is special as it has been salted and cured like ham but then marinated in olive oil and garlic before combining it with the peppers.
This is a truly Valencian dish and can be found in most tapas bars.
Michelin Star Dining in Valencia
The city of Valencia boasts 5 Michelin-starred restaurants but this number grows in the wider Comunidad Valencia. Across the wider province (including Castellón, Alicante, and Valencia), there are an incredible 21 Michelin-star restaurants.
If you would like to take a deeper dive into Valencia Michelin star restaurants, check out the definitive guide designed for eager foodies.
About the Author
I am Lara from Sea Saffron in Valencia, Spain. A Londoner turned Valencian, I made the city home 3 years ago and since then have been working in the world of food and wine. Sea Saffron is an award-winning culinary tour company showcasing the best of the area’s gastronomy and wine in unique venues of Valencia. The startup was launched by a young entrepreneur, and passionate foodie, Eduardo Aguilar. We love welcoming guests from all over the world to proudly share the best of our region!
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