When you think of the most iconic Spanish food, the first two things that come to your mind are probably Tapas and Paella. Truth be told, non-Spaniards view Paella as Spain's national dish, but most Spaniards consider it to be a regional Valencian dish. Valencians, in turn, regard Paella as one of their identifying symbols. We knew that once we were in Valencia all we would eat was Paella.
What is Paella? Like a Tagine, Paella is the cooking utensil that is used to make the dish. Over time the name of the cooking utensil and the resultant dish are now used interchangeably. In fact, I believe that in Valencia they refer to all cooking vessels as paella – a pan – whether or not the pan is used to make the Paella. Around the world, a Paella pan is referred to as “Paelleras.”
The dish Paella generally has rice as its main ingredient. The rice is cooked with combinations of several other ingredients, typically saffron, rabbit, green beans, snails and Artichoke. There are several variations, with pork, chicken, seafood and chorizo. You also get a Black Paella which is made with Squid Ink. Paellas can be dry, much like our Biryanis, or creamy like a Risotto or even soupy. While rice is the base in most cases, there is Paella made with noodle or Vermicelli which is called a Fideua.
We were going to be in Valencia for three nights which meant three Paella’s. This was going to be fun. We spent hours trying to find out good specialist Paella places. We had some sort of short list. We also asked the Concierge at the Hotel who threw up different names. Thank god for “free internet” in the hotel. More, research and discussions. I mean, we were in a city that was the home to Paella. We HAD to get the best possible versions.
The first night we had bookings at a very nice place called the Raco Del Turia – Turia being the river that flows thru Valencia. The restaurant was bright with white table cloths and minimal staff. To start we had to sample the local cocktail – Aqua Di Valencia. This is a version of Bucks Fizz and a Screwdriver. The drink comprises of Orange Juice, Cava and Gin. Pleasant, good for just one drink.
Aqua Di Valencia
Wafers. They are all over Spain
For starters we had to have a classic, once again, Gambas Al Ajillo – Prawn with Olive oil Garlic and some Paprika. Excellent. With this we ordered Sardine with Tomato and Caper Cream on a Hazelnut base. Even better, though, badly photographed.
Gambas Al Ajillo
Sardine with Tomato and Caper Cream on a Hazelnut base
The main course had to be the classic Paella Valencia. This looks large but in fact the rice layer is pretty thin. The Paella was really very good and was thoroughly enjoyable. Desserts were nice too, a home-made ice cream and a Spanish version of a Cheese Cake. Good service, good food, excellent atmosphere and vibe. This was a good evening and excellent meal.
The next night we were to dine at Gran Azul. This place was known for its Fideua. This served food in a more modern style. The restaurant was across the River and a short walk from our Hotel. Large, swish looking interiors. Valencian Tomato is locally grown. We had seen them being sold in the Market. SO for our starter we ordered a Valencian Tomato with Tuna Belly. A beautiful looking dish, and, was a perfect starter – cold, light and the acidic dressing was perfect. With this we just had to have a Ham Croquette which was unusual as the inside was more Mousse like rather than the more solid and dense insides that we had been served in other places. The Spanish eat eggs with their meals. This one dish looked so tempting that we just had to have it – a simple fried egg with good Spanish Ham.
The Fideua turned up. This was the Noodle Paella with Prawn and Langoustines. Extremely tasty but unfortunately not my favourite dish. The Noodles – as an ingredient - were disappointing. This did not work for me, or HRH the Queen. But, as they say, live and learn. Not going to order this again.
Noodle Paella with Prawn and Langoustines
The last night was another highly recommended restaurant, La Riua. This was a far more downmarket place, located in a nondescript building in the centre of town. We had an 8.30 pm table and when we turned up at 8.35 they were still setting up! Soon we were seated and ready to go. This was our last night in Spain, so, once more with feeling – Croquettas. Along with this was an order of Peppers stuffed with Eel and the whole dish baked with a White Sauce. Lovely dish.
Starters disposed of we waited for our Black Paella made with Squid Ink. This turned up and was proudly displayed and portioned. Let me tell you, it is a bit disconcerting to eat Black food. Your lips get a tinge of black and your dining companion starts to look like out of a macabre horror movie with a black mouth! But this was good Paella and something you should have.
In balance, the traditional Valencian Paella was outstanding, the Black Squid Ink Paella came second, while the Fideua was a disappointment.
All in all, a fun time in Valencia with some good food.