Valencia for us was all about the paella, but I’ll come back to that in the foodie notes at the end.
Besides that – bored of cultural stuff (I have seen enough cathedrals to last a lifetime now) we resorted to visiting a zoo. But not just any zoo – Bioparc Valencia, which follows the philosophy of zoo-immersion. That is, the barriers are cleverly hidden and the enclosures are as close to the animal’s native habitat as possible. It’s relatively small, especially compared to Singapore Zoo which I’d visited not long before, but the proximity to the animals and lack of glass or cages made it much more fun to take photos. In particular the lemur enclosure allows you to wander through whilst they play around you, completely unperturbed. I’d definitely recommend a visit if like us you have had enough of churches and art galleries!
Paella draws its origins from Valencia, and not wanting to waste time on an inferior version we abstained from eating it throughout the rest of Spain until we arrived at its home. Paella Valencia consists of meat (usually chicken and/or rabbit), rice and beans, cooked to order in a traditional large iron pan, and is eaten at lunch time (so 2-5pm by Spanish time). After some research, The Boy settled on Restaurante Levante Valencia – a family-owned restaurant which specialises in paella and is very popular with local business-people. Arriving early by Spanish standards, we were the only ones in the restaurant, so the owner took care to show us around, including the kitchens which can be seen through huge glass windows at the front of the restaurant, and explained the process of cooking paella.
When we first arrived he asked us if we had tried paella before – when we told him we had, but not in Valencia he replied, “Then you have not tried paella.” Our meal started with a simple but delicious dish of peppers and cheese, then onto the star of the show. The whole pan (a small one for two people) is brought to the table straight from the kitchen. It’s here I’m going to have to mention that the dusty, hot walk to the restaurant from our hostel had somehow set off a killer headache, and I struggled to get through the meal let alone enjoy it to its full potential. It was a bit devastating, as through the pain I could tell it was pretty amazing. I did my best, but we ended up having to cut our lunch short. The owner was kind enough to pack the remainder – into a takeaway container for us, which I ended up eating for dinner once I had recovered. Not the same out of a microwave of course, but I was glad to be able to enjoy it properly!
Paella Valencia, from Restaurante Levante Valencia
In Mercado Central we tried horchata de chufa, a cold drink made from tigernuts, water and sugar, with traditional fartons, long pastry fingers to dip into the horchata. This dairy-free drink is nutty and refreshing – I can see it being perfect on a hot day in Spain, although it was still fantastic in winter.
Tinto Fino Ultramarino was the last restaurant we visited before heading off for Barcelona the next morning, and whilst I can’t seem to remember much about the food besides enjoying it, I do remember the free shots we got for checking into Foursquare. And then the shots of limoncello that the boisterous table of Italian businessmen next to us offered to share with us. Come to think of it, it isn’t really surprising I don’t remember much about the food.