Spain: Valencian Food

In Valencia, along with the Flamenco, paella is king, all things citrus, fish and sea food galore.  You get the idea, this is a land with plentiful options, and the resulting combinations increase exponentially.

oranges galore, and dressed for the chill

Given the bounty that exists due to its location, Valencian cuisine can be said to focus on vegetables and the fruits of the sea.  Meat plays second fiddle here, which, if you consider what they had access to prior to industrial transportation, makes sense – Valencia is nestled right up to the sea but as you go inland one quickly finds oneself in mountainous regions that look barren and harsh. The meat, when it enters the recipe equation, is mostly rabbit and goat that pairs well with the other ingredients.

look to take a left

Food wise, what to expect

While no means exhaustive, here is a sample of what one might expect:

Rice is heavily featured on the menu, given that it is grown nearby, and the dishes prepared can be split into two categories, wet rice dishes such as arroz caldoso (a rice stew),  el arroz amb fessols i naps, (rice with beans and turnips), or dry rice dishes such as paella.

Fish dishes are popular. Consider for example grilled eel served with a yummy ali-ipebre, a garlic, olive oil and paprika sauce.

Dishes made with oranges are common, with one example being pato a la naranja (duck with orange sauce).  The local version of a mimosa is made with cava (Catalonian wine similar to champagne) and called agua de Valencia.

the cathedral of ham

Horchata from tiger nuts is a local specialty.  Speaking of nuts, the area around Valencia is known for them, specifically almonds, so consequently it should not be a surprise that turrón was introduced here by the Moors.  There’s also the fartons those sweet pastries designed to be dipped in this drink.

horchata and farton


Speaking of citrus, candied fruit is very common here.  I assume it started as a way to preserve the bounty they get each year, along with the usual suspects of citrus, sweet potatoes and entire apples could be found.

candied fruits


Pestinyos are small, sweet and dry pastries folded in thirds and flavored with orange and aniseed.

Pastissets  are pastries with a sweet almond or sweet potato filling, and is thought to be of Arab origin.

Arrop i tallaetes is a dessert with fruit soaked in a sweet syrup made from grape must.

Peladillas (Jordan almonds).

Figues albardaes (fig fritter)

Bunyols, also Arab-inspired pastry, these are fried doughnut like balls covered with sugar, and often includes pumpkin in the dough.  On a random side note, the word “doughnut” is trademarked in Spain, so Dunkin Doughnuts is known as Dunkin Coffee there.  Same chain, but they were required to change the name.  I saw a few of them and thought they were impostors trying to mimic Dunkin Doughnuts until  I checked on the story.

too many choices, and just one stomach


Valencia itself seems to be a city of contrasts, or perhaps more accurately a blending of many cultures and ideas.  This region got its start when ancient Romans gave plots of land to deserving veterans as gift; calling this area Valentia (the Strong).  Centuries could be marked by the strangers that stopped by and for a time make this area home; Goths, Arabs, Castilians, Aragonese, Catalans.  Perhaps one visitor whose influence is still felt is the Moors who, with their vast knowledge of agriculture contributed ingenious irrigation systems to support the new crops they introduced: rice, sugar cane, oranges and almonds.  Their culinary sensibilities contributed to cooking methods, and their artistic gifts are also found in the architecture.

reminds me of Venice

Today, Valencia is the third largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona.  Its old town is breathtaking in its charm.  Outside of the old town that city has made a concerted effort to spruce itself up, with a stellar transportation system and some incredibly futuristic cityscape that seems more appropriate in a science fiction movie.

Logan's Run?

When we visited Valencia, it was icy cold and it was as if the weather was playing tricks on our mind, because the sky was a brilliant blue and the oranges and dates on the trees contrasted beautifully with it. That bitter chill did not stop me from exploring, and discovering a city of amazing contrasts for myself.

a square in the old town

perfect if not for the cold temps

Some places that struck me:

Estación del Norte (Train station):  As soon as we stepped from the train into the station, I was struck by the beauty of the building.  It was built at the turn of the last century in the style of Austrian Art Nouveau.

interior of train station

Cathedral: This cathedral was one of my favorites of all my travels.  There was something about its mostly monotone colored interior that really appealed to me.  Apparently this place which was built around 1260.  For the last millennium,this location has served as the meeting place for the Water Tribunal to settle disputes between the farmers over irrigation.  Don’t believe me?  Stop by the Gothic Puerta de los Apostoles at noon on Thursdays and see for yourself.

Mercado Central (food market) :  A huge beautiful cavernous building filled with serious food mongers offering up local delicacies of all sorts.

exterior of the market

While the physical space may have changed, the food market here goes back at least 650 years, and is called the Tira de contar.  The name speaks to the farmers’ practice of setting up long rows (tira) of stalls to sell their produce.  The food was sold by count (contar) and not weight.

food stall just outside the market entrance

inside the market

Ciutat de les Arts i de les Ciències  (The City of Arts & Sciences)  This city is constructed around a lake and was largely designed by a local architect.  It is a beautiful and impressive area, however the day we visited it was deserted and which added an air of surreality.

a bridge of intrigue

skywalks connecting buildings

now where am I?

I saw a lot of symbols and coats of arms with bats, in fact many of the key chains and other souvenirs were bat shaped.  I had to wait until I got home to satisfy my curiosity, and I found that bats are a heraldic symbol for Valencia and also other cities in Spain.  The use of the bat is most prevalent in territories of the Crown of Aragon.  One source suggests that this may be because a bat intervened during a crucial battle against the Saracens and allowed the King of Aragon to win Valencia for his kingdom.  A nice story, but earlier documents indicate that the winged creature was a swallow and not a bat.  A squadron of the royal air force even adopted a bat with the motto “Per Noctem Volamus” (we fly through the night).


If you are traveling to Spain, and have the time, Valencia is worth a detour.   A few days allows you to comfortably investigate this city.  We spent three days here, and that was plenty of time, with the food alone reason enough to go.  I for one am delighted to say I’ve had paella in the City that created it.

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20 comments for “Spain: Valencian Food

  1. April 8, 2012 at 9:12 PM

    Valencia looks & sounds like a wonderful city! Thanks for taking us along!
    Andrea@WellnessNotes recently posted..Japchae: Korean Noodles (Korean Banchan Series)

  2. April 9, 2012 at 2:12 AM

    A fabulous place to visit! I’d love to go there and sample all the great food.



  3. April 10, 2012 at 9:04 AM What a trip. I love the detail you put into this post. I’ve always known horchata to be made with rice, I am dying to know what it’s predecessor tastes like. Dunkin Doughnuts do not belong in Spain. How are they able to survive among the Spanish pastries and European coffee?
    Christine @ Fresh Local and Best recently posted..Longwood Gardens

  4. April 10, 2012 at 2:58 PM

    Fabulous! Oh thank you so much for sharing your visiti with us LouAnn. You took the best pictures and your enthusiasm for the city oozes with goodness.

    Thank you so much for sharing…oh so curious about the Dunkin thing. Off to check it out:)
    Louise recently posted..Eggs, Artichokes or Both?

  5. April 10, 2012 at 6:39 PM

    Wow, my limited knowledge had me only associated Valencia with oranges! It sounds like there is plenty more to explore. I do need to learn more about the Pestinyos. My husband loves anise. Such an interesting fact about doughnut!
    Lori recently posted..Lemon Sugar Cookies

  6. OysterCulture
    April 11, 2012 at 5:53 AM

    Andrea, it really surprised me what a neat city this was. I have a lot of Spanish posts right now as several family members are headed over and I wanted to capture our experiences to share with them.

    Rosa – It was indeed a beautiful place, however the pictures you post make me yearn for a trip to your home.

    Christine – Now that would be a blast. We’d have a lot of fun. Regarding, Dunkin Coffee – I have no idea why anyone would want one after the great pastries they can experience, but then I feel the same way about McDonalds in Paris, Rome, Tokyo so I am obviously missing something.

    Louise – I got curious about the Dunkin thing as I teach international business and strategy and this was a great real life example to share with the class.

    Lori – oranges and paella was my base. I got to build from there/ =)

  7. April 11, 2012 at 7:15 AM

    I love the mix of contemporary and historic architecture. And, the focus on citrus and seafood would make me very happy. I hadn’t heard about bats being the symbol of Valencia. So interesting–the city of Austin has a thing for bats as well!
    lisaiscooking recently posted..Lemon and Goat’s Cheese Ravioli

  8. April 11, 2012 at 12:21 PM

    Wow, what a nice vacation…love the pictures! It sure seems that you had a great time 🙂
    Thanks for sharing the pictures and the virtual tour…hope you are having a wonderful week!

  9. April 13, 2012 at 1:30 PM

    I think I am falling in virtual love. The foods, the cathedral, the market – even the train station beckons. How did you tear yourself away?
    Claudia recently posted..Mushroom Bruschetta from April Bloomfield

  10. April 15, 2012 at 9:03 PM

    I love Valencia! So glad you are having a wonderful time and sharing all of this.
    tammy recently posted..Tammy’s Top Ten (t3 report) Tips for Less Food Waste

  11. April 17, 2012 at 3:10 PM

    What a wonderful city! I haven’t been there though after reading what you’ve written and seeing your pics, I really long to. The contrast between older architectural styles and the ultra sleek modern is wonderful. Only in Europe I think.

    Closer to home, I was delighted to learn that you’re a fan of Quivera. Perhaps we should meet in Dry Creek Valley sometime for wine tasting? That would be a lot of fun!
    Stevie recently posted..Japanese mushroom risotto, or kinoko gohan

  12. April 20, 2012 at 11:03 AM

    Been so looking forward to this post and you went way beyond my expectations! I love Valencia. You were spot on with the food and the city. Spectacular photos by way and great to see what you look like! You do look like you were having a fantastic time, no wonder! 🙂
    ruth recently posted..Italian Foodie Experience#5 King Prawn/Shrimp Ravioli with a Portuguese Twist

  13. April 22, 2012 at 12:39 PM

    I’d love to get to Spain someday! Although I think I’d gain 50 lbs every week!!
    Lisa @ Snappy Gourmet recently posted..Mexican Chocolate Shots

  14. April 22, 2012 at 3:59 PM

    I would so love to visit Valencia, thanks so much for sharing the pictures and everything!

  15. Laz
    April 22, 2012 at 7:30 PM

    Fantastic post. Fabulous photography and an amazing write up. Valencia is a great city.

    Two thumbs up

  16. April 23, 2012 at 1:28 PM

    I really wish that you had warned me. I had a lot to do today. I didn’t have time to be transported to Valencia on such a breathtaking tour. And now here I am breathless from the trip and very grateful!

  17. April 24, 2012 at 6:56 AM

    You know on my last visit to Valencia, I ate so much paella that I couldn’t look at it for over a year. I’m glad you’ve had such a good trip.
    tammy recently posted..Preparing with a Poem in my Pocket

  18. April 29, 2012 at 4:53 AM

    I have never been to Valencia but is sure looks good to me: a lot of beautiful architecture, foods, turrón, horchata, lovely markets & stalls, great weather,…Oh I wish I was there on Holiday right now because it is still raining over here in Belgium, 1 week in a row:(!
    Sophie recently posted..Vegan spelt rhubarb cake with chocolate chips

  19. OysterCulture
    May 2, 2012 at 5:21 PM

    Lisa – Maybe they’re sister cities?

    Juliana – having a good week, just crazy busy, hope all is well with you.

    Claudia – It was hard, now need to go back, soon.

    Tammy – thanks!

    Laz – Thanks for the high praise.

    Jill – Glad you liked it!

    Tammy – I had to pace myself or I would have been in the same boat.

    Sophie – Even with sunshine in Belgium you need to find a way to get to Spain. I need to find a way to get to Belgium. Hope all is well with you, and you get sunshine soon.

    Lisa – If I didn’t run about 10 miles a day, I’d have gained 10 pounds in just a few days! I wanted to sample everything.

    Ruth – Like to stay mysterious =) Thanks for the compliment on the post, I have a few more for Spain lined up but feel compelled to pace myself, it was such a wonderful trip.

    Stevie – I think you would really enjoy Valencia and I’d love to meet up in Dry Creek sometime.

    5 Star – You would love it, I can just tell. =)

  20. October 24, 2012 at 11:21 AM

    Beautifully written and photographed as always. Thank you!

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