A.K.A. THE VALENCIAN FOOD TOUR – GET PASSED THE USUAL TRIPADVISOR RECOMMENDATIONS AND EAT LIKE LOCALS IN VALENCIA
En Valencia lo hacen todo con cariño. This is what I learned visiting the cheerful and thriving city of Valencia a couple of weeks ago: they do it all with love. And if this is true for its architecture, streets, shops and culture, it couldn’t be any truer when it comes to its food and drink industry, a combination of traditions and creativity, popular taste and contemporary touches anyone falls in love with. In fact, as soon as we landed and savoured the first sip of sangría in a long time, I instantly knew I had to write a Valencia Foodie Guide once back home. And here we are, after five days spent in sunny Spain and one goal – to eat like locals in Valencia -, I’m coming back with a long-due new post for the travel section: my inside guide to where to eat and drink in Valencia during a long weekend in town.
Let’s get started!
THE BEST BRUNCHES IN VALENCIA
Say what you want, I am a strong believer in the power of a well-made, fancy-served brunch and no matter what, to me any self-respecting vacation should include one. So here I come with a doozy right in the city centre of Valencia. If you are visiting the area of Ruzafa, you shouldn’t miss DULCE DE LECHE in calle Cuba (also found in calle Jesús, not far from Valencia Nord train station) an Argentinian-owned bakery that has soon become my “heaven must look like this” kinda idea. They have it all: from beautiful and instagram-worthy interiors, to a lovely staff, passing through the best selection of sweet and savoury treats you could imagine. I normally have a sweet tooth, but let me tell you I still dream their avocado, bacon & egg bagels. Not to mention their dulce de leche croissant and caramel latte – a bliss!
For a breakfast of champions, the place you should check is LA PETITE BRIOCHE SORNÍ in Carrer de Sorní – the perfect place to get your energy together before a walk along Jardín del Turia. With a mixture of French touches and Newyorkese accents, this tiny bakery serves the best chocolate bagel and dulche de leche omelette we’ve ever tried, but their selection also includes a good variety of cakes, crepes, pancakes and croissant – and don’t forget to ask for a zumo de naranja. Just a little consideration before having your breakfast here: embrace the chilled Spanish attitude and accept you shouldn’t be in a hurry when inside, ‘cause the service can be a bit slow – but well worth it, I promise!
IR DE TAPAS: WHERE TO EAT TAPAS IN VALENCIA
No Valencia foodie guide would be complete without a mention to tapa restaurants and tapa bars in town – enjoying tapas in Spain is a must and that’s a fact. Hanging out with locals, we’ve had the chance to enjoy the wonders of LA COOPERATIVA DEL MAR (also known as La Conservera) in Carrer del Literat Azorín. Pescadería Pepe back in the days, it used to be a fish shop then taken over by three guys and transformed into a peculiar tapa restaurant serving all sort of canned fish. Yes, you got it right, the whole menu is made out of cans of fish coming from Portugal, all cheerfully displayed behind the counter. But don’t be fooled, although the concept is super original, the food is great and you can choose from all sort of fish recipes, from tuna and cod, to cuttlefish, octopus and fine fish throat just to name a few. You oughta just make sure you bring your love for fish, ‘cause otherwise drinks will be your only hope!
In fairness to meat lovers, I shall not forget to mention jamón as one of the sources of happiness when dealing with Spanish food. So, when exploring the Ciutat Vella, you can stop just a couple of steps before Valencia Cathedral and in Plaça de la Reina enter VIANDAS where you can enjoy some great bocadillos (sandwitches) but more importantly, get your own take-away cone filled with Hibérico ham, cheese or salame. Feeling hunger pains, anyone?
Finally, for a proper meal, you can also pop into MAMÁ DELICIAS in Calle Periodista Azzati. I’ve heard magic about breakfasts in this place, however we’ve only been there at lunch time and since they have a limited menu on Sundays, we’ve basically gone for all their appetizers and shared them. My favourite: literally potatoes-anything. We all know: Patatas or papas are a must in any Spanish recipe worth of its name and this restaurant didn’t fall short on our expectations when it comes to papas fritas, patatas bravas and papas con huevos y salchichas. Yay!
NIGHTLIFE: DRINKING IN VALENCIA
It’s safe to say that you haven’t mastered the real Valencian mood until you’ve found out where locals hang out in the evening for a couple of drinks with friends. And let me tell you Valencians are all but obvious when it comes to bars. So, if you want to scout some places by yourself, my suggestion is to walk down the streets of RUZAFA at night and you’ll meet a fair number of clubs and bars where you’ll be able to experience the hipster vibe of this neighbourhood.
Valencia hides quite a few other pearls though, as for example CONVENT CARMEN in Plaza del Portal Nuevo. Located in Barrio del Carmen, the most famous area when it comes to nightlife in Valencia, this venue is an old monastery which was house to the nuns of Convento de San José y Santa Teresa for nearly 400 years, from 1609 to 2007. At the end of September 2018, this fascinating place has opened its doors to visitors in the form of a museum, event venue and soon-to-be hotel, whose cloister hosts now a number of bars where you can enjoy a drink far from the racket of the streets. If you are looking for a magic and unique atmosphere right in the city centre, this is the place to go to!
When it comes to creativity, Valencians know their way around it, so after a walk on the beach you really have to stop at LA FÁBRICA DE HIELO in Playa del Cabanyal. Once again, this venue used to be something completely different in the past: an ice plant abandoned until 2016, has now become an indie & creative venue hosting concerts and events. Loved its post-industrial feeling and yet very chilled atmosphere, just what we really needed for a cool Sunday night out. The music was great too!
Finally, back in Ruzafa there’s CAFÉ BERLIN (carrer de Cadis): soft lights, informal and relaxed mood – I’m sure you got I’m all for the easygoing side of things -, bookshelves on the walls, there are two major pros for me here: a) a swing hanging from the ceiling and b) Amor Por Favor, the sweetest cocktail I’ve tried since I was probably a teenager, but boys it also comes with a side dish of gummy bears (told ya I have a sweet tooth!). Passed with flying colours.
As any big city in Spain, Valencia has its fair amount of colourful markets: a vibrant show of its local and more truthful life, where customs and traditions still find their way across the city. The MERCADO CENTRAL, the central market of Valencia, is a beautiful example of Valencian modernism for its magnificent iron and glass architecture and it is the most famous when it comes to purchasing fresh fruit & veggies, fish, cheese, spices and all sorts of cured meats. Just a bit smaller but of the same kind, there’s also the MERCADO DE RUZAFA with its super peculiar pastel walls: if you want to see locals in their everyday life, you need to come here. We got all of our fish and veggies for our homemade new year’s eve dinner here and we weren’t let down. A final mention also goes to MERCADO DE COLÓN which, declared National Building for its proven early-century Modernism, is today home to a number of bars and cafés and crawls with life all day long. Great for a pit-stop while visiting the surroundings of Gran Vía.
OTHER TYPICAL VALENCIAN FOOD YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS
On the beverage side, there are two main drinks you shouldn’t miss: the first, Agua de Valencia, is a cocktail made of Cava (Spanish sparkling wine), orange juice, vodka and gin. Super refreshing and light, I’ve had it at Café Berlin and found it perfect for an easy night-out or a long happy hour. Much more traditional and kid-proof, Horchata de chufa is the real pride of Valencia and if you wander around the streets of the city centre you can still find horchaterías specialising in horchata (indeed) and typical Spanish desserts. In fact, when in the Ciutat Vella, take the time to stop at HORCHATERÍA SANTA CATALINA – just next to the Cathedral – and try this drink: made of water, sugar and chufa milk (a very peculiar root, Wikipedia says) I cannot promise it’s going to be your all time favourite – to us it tasted a bit like those minty products used by dentists – but it still needs to be given a chance! Of course, if you’re not this brave you can always opt for Tinto de verano (red wine and gaseosa) or Sangría.
Foodwise, by now I’m sure you have noticed I haven’t talked about the more than famous Valencian paella. The truth is, we haven’t found a place that I would happily recommend and although Valencia is full of restaurants serving paella, none of the ones we’ve met on our way owned that genuine feeling of serving the original recipe, made, as they say, con cariño. We’ve had a pretty good take-away one at EL RUBIO though, so if you have a kitchen at hand, you might want to consider this food chain. Of course, if you have any good suggestions, please let me know! In the meantime, the good news is that we’ll have to visit again, because we’re still on a paella mission!
My last suggestion brings it all down to the Mediterranean cuisine, as you shall not leave Valencia without trying their pan con tomate. Nothing more than a slice of bread enriched with freshly grated tomato and a spruce of garlic, in its simplicity it tastes like heaven. You can find it as a tapa or as part of the typical Desayuno Valenciano (coffee + orange juice + bread with tomato), you need to go for it.
El Rubio: many shops across the city
Valencia is a thriving city, full of life, great opportunities and a fair amount of creativity popping out even from the smallest of corners. When visiting, I am 100% you won’t be let down neither by its vibe nor by its food & drink options – you just basically need to keep your eyes open and you’ll find a whole amount of interesting stuff!
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