Is Valencia worth visiting to enjoy special Spanish dishes? Absolutely. It’s home to Spain’s most famous dish as well as six Michelin-starred restaurants.
Valencia is Spain’s third largest city and sits on the Mediterranean Coast. It has a warm and sunny climate. Much of Spain’s brilliant produce grows in the area surrounding this grand, old city.
So, yes, it is a great city to visit as a tourist and not just for the food and wine. The old, city center is full of character with stunning, historic buildings. What a fabulous place to just wander around the alley ways and see what you can discover. There is no shortage of great tapas bars to discover. And here’s a bonus, a glass of wine here is as cheap as any place on the planet, with a decent glass only 2-3 euros!
We spent a glorious month in the historic part of the city and discovered many great foods to cook, as well as a huge array of fine restaurants and sunny, tapas bars to enjoy. And, one of the best Valencia tourist attractions, Mercat Central Valencia. It is surely one of the most beautiful, food markets you’ll find anywhere.
So here we share some of our favorite culinary experiences from Valencia.
Special Spanish Dishes Found in Valencia
With more than 8000 eateries and bars, there is no shortage of eating and drinking options in Valencia. Spain punches above its weight when it comes to Michelin stars with Valencia containing six awarded restaurants.
Sitting right on the Mediterranean Coast, means no shortage of great seafood to enjoy. But it’s not just the bounty from the sea, “La Huerta” is the name of the rich and fertile land around Valencia. The area contains many irrigation channels and dams, originally developed by the Moors, when much of Spain was under Islamic control. And we also have the Moors to thank for bringing rice cultivation to Spain. And that means….
Paella: A Spanish Favorite
Talk about special Spanish dishes. Paella is Spain’s great culinary gift to the world and it was born in Valencia. Paella is simply rice cooked in stock and flavored with saffron with a few “special ingredients”.
Much to the surprise of tourists, traditional Paella from Valencia does not contain seafood! The “special ingredients” include chicken (but could also be rabbit or snails), tomatoes, green beans, red bell peppers and sometimes peas.
There are of course many other versions of paella available in Valencia, including Paella Marinara, which includes a variety of seafood. You might find calamari, shrimp, mussels, lobster and clams instead of the chicken found in the traditional version.
Your paella is cooked and served in a large, round pan called a paellera and is eaten in a communal fashion. Good paella has a slightly, crunchy bottom where the rice caramelizes during the cooking process. Called socarrat, some tourists mistake this for over-cooked paella. No, that is exactly how it should be served!
Having discussed with other friends, both Spanish and non-Spanish, we have concluded paella in Spain is salty. Yes, it will taste quite salty, especially compared to what you may have eaten elsewhere (or even made at home). No they didn’t drop the salt into the pot, it is actually seasoned that way!
So we took it upon ourselves to find some great paella during our visit! Finding 3 great restaurants in Valencia where you can enjoy a good paella:
- La Pepica- Since 1898 and where Ernest Hemingway famously enjoyed his first paella. So just a little bit of history here! Located along the beachfront (where there are many restaurants serving paella), it offers fantastic views. We recommended reservations.
- El Coso- Another restaurant on the beach at Valencia. We enjoyed a cauliflower and cod paella here. Nice ambiance. The perfect place for a long lunch and a nice bottle of white wine with paella. Relax and enjoy it!
- La Genuina, situated in a quaint building a little out of town frequented by locals and great value. The paella here is considered by many locals to be “authentic” meaning it is served with socarrat. There are several versions available including Valencian and Marinara. It’s popular, so make a reservation.
It’s not paella, but black rice, colored and flavored with squid ink! Like paella in concept, the flavor and color comes from the squid ink. It contains plenty of seafood as well. It’s jet black and the color can be a little confronting. Be aware, like paella, it can be quite a salty dish.
But if you are looking to try some special Spanish dishes then you really must try arros negre.
Tapas and Pinchos
And, of course you are in Spain so there are olives, jamon (Iberian ham is a highlight), tapas, pinchos (or pinxtos as they are known in Basque) and classy wines available everywhere. With 8000 eateries and bars in Valencia, there is no shortage of places to try special Spanish dishes.
And since I know, unless you have visited Spain, at this point you are wondering what is the difference between tapas and pinchos, or maybe even just what in the world are pinchos (or pinxtos)?
Well . . . the short answer is pinchos are tapas served on/with a toothpick! Yes they are pierced! Which is Spanish . . .pinchos! And it is handy for the bar to calculate your bill- there is usually one set price per piece for pinchos and they just count the toothpicks on your plate! Simple really.
Lunch is the big meal of the day, and tapas is either a snack before a late dinner (many restaurants don’t even open until 9 pm) or a light dinner. Tapas are informal and quite social.
In Madrid, most tapas bar specialize in just one or two tapas dishes. It is normal in Madrid to have a drink, enjoy a tapa and then move to the next tapas bar and enjoy their tapa specialty. So, moving from bar to bar, until you are done. But, in Valencia, tapas bars are more generalist, offering a whole selection of tapas. In other words, you just enjoy yourself at the one establishment.
Some of our favorite tapas bars in Valencia:
- Pintxo i Trigo in a brilliant courtyard offering a great selection of pinchos and tapas. We recommend the mushrooms and the oxtail croquettes. The oxtail croquette is mashed potatoes with oxtail (rabo de torro- see below) stew in the middle, breaded and deep fried Delicious!
- La Estrecha, in the same courtyard as Pinxto i Trigo, it is always popular and incredibly good value. Try the Lomo Sardina and Esgarraet Valenciano (peppers and fish). They have a great selection of wines as well.
- Central Bar, very classy and the only eatery inside the magnificent Mercat Central Valencia. Try the Bocadillo Ricard Camarena (a sandwich with pork cheek, mustard, cheese, onion). You will probably have to wait in the queue for a seat. The food, made using fresh ingredients from the market, is worth the wait, and it’s a great way to enjoy the hustle and bustle of the market as well.
- Boatella Tapas- just outside Mercat Central, this place is perfect on a sunny day. It is always busy and great value. The wait staff is friendly, efficient, and speaks English. Try the calamari, garlic prawns and don’t miss the meatballs!
Valencia offers plenty of tapas options featuring seafood, mushrooms (setas), cheeses (quesos), meatballs (albondigas) and croquettes, And of course the pincho options as well. Enjoy it with a glass of Spanish wine or an Agua de Valencia.
If you would like to try tapas at home, they are perfect for a cocktail party, you will enjoy our tapas party menu complete with recipes. The recipes are all quick and easy and authentic. Based on dishes we ate in Valencia and traditional ingredients:
Agua de Valencia: A Spanish Cocktail
You know the oranges around Valencia must be good when the city gave its own name to one of the world’s most popular varieties, Valencia oranges!
“La Huerta” ensures there is no shortage of oranges available in Valencia. And, at Mercat Central Valencia they are wonderfully inexpensive. Make sure you buy some to either eat or make your morning’s freshly squeezed orange juice. Delicious.
When walking around Valencia you can’t fail to notice the availability of “Agua de Valencia”. It’s not quite water and you will find it at every bar and restaurant in the city! Agua de Valencia is the city’s official drink and it’s simple to make with fresh squeezed orange juice, cava (Spanish sparkling wine – similar to Italian Prosecco) and liquor- usually gin and vodka.
Make sure you try one!
Horchata: A Spanish Specialty
Another very common drink you will find in Valencia is horchata. The main ingredient in this non-alcoholic drink is the tiger nut (also known as earth almond or chufa in Spanish). The drink also contains sugar and water. It’s a centuries-old drink and is thick, sweet and very satisfying, especially inn the warmer weather.
Horchata is a very common, summer breakfast in Valencia. Try it with a farton, a long, thin bun with icing. Dip it into the horchata! Make sure you stop off at a “horchateria” to sample this drink. Popular not just in Valencia, Madrid and the rest of Spain, but throughout Latin America as well.
Churros and Hot Chocolate
Churros and hot chocolate is another dish you see everywhere in Valencia. People often eat churros for breakfast. Or maybe that should read dessert! Churros are simply deep-fried pastries. And yes, they are delicious with that chocolate which you may serve on top or on the side for dipping.
Mercat Central Valencia
Our accommodation in Valencia was only 100 meters from Mercat Central Valencia. How fortunate for us because this must be one of the best food markets anywhere in the world both for ambience and for buying all your food needs.
You can read a longer post about the Mercat Central Valencia here. And while you’re at the market, keep your eyes peeled for cooked, roasted pumpkin. Called calabaza asada, the roasted pumpkin is caramelized and is gorgeously sweet. Try it as a dessert by serving it with cream and caramel sauce. Delicious and yet another one of those special Spanish dishes.
Restaurant Week in Valencia: The Opportrunity to Try Several Special Spanish Dishes
Our visit coincided with restaurant week in Valencia,which is twice a year, once in spring and again in autumn. Providing an opportunity to enjoy many special Spanish dishes and offering lunch for 20 euros and dinner for 30 euros at many of Valencia’s best restaurants, including several of the Michelin starred restaurants. We enjoyed 3 fabulous and generous meals:
- Lunch at Askua – We chose Askua restaurant as we wanted to try one of Valencia’s special dishes, Rabo de Toro, which translates literally to Bull’s Tail, and is known as oxtail in English. The croquettes in the first course were excellent, and the Rabo de Toro, a rich, creamy ragout did not disappoint.
- Lunch at El Coso a lovely restaurant on the beach with a great vibe. The calamari was out of this world, the paella good and the white wine made the afternoon perfect!
- Dinner at Saiti – This was fine dining and the full degustation menu featured a variety of dishes showcasing local ingredients. Everything was just perfect and the presentation was beautiful.
If you want to experience special Spanish dishes at a fine dining establishment with great prices, then here is your opportunity.
As you can probably tell, we loved the food in Valencia! And with wine so reasonably priced, it doesn’t break the budget.
Check out our post about traveling in Spain, coming soon, as well as our post featuring the unique foods of Madrid and where to try them.