It is the Moors we can thank for introducing
rice to Valencia in the eighth century. In fact the Spanish
word for rice 'arroz' derives from the Arabic word ar-ruzz.
Today the marshlands bordering the Albufera is one of the principal
centres of rice production in Spain. Spanish rice is short grained,
absorbing a lot of liquid when cooked, and is the basis for
many classic Valencian dishes. The Valencian flair for cooking
has created the famous paella dish. This is typically meat based,
usually with rabbit or chicken, sometimes snails. In coastal
villages it is common to cook a seafood
paella, paella marinera. The paella is traditionally cooked
over a wood fire using a flat shallow dish, known as a paella
pan, from which the classic dish takes its name. Often it is
eaten on social occasions as large paella dishes can easily
accommodate a crowd.
A delicious variant is the paella
negra (black paella), which is squid based. The squid ink
gives the dish its characteristic black colour. Other rice based
dishes include arroz al horno (oven cooked rice), arroz a banda
(made with fish and shellfish) and arroz caldosa (rice stew).
The rice dishes are traditionally served with allioli (garlic
and oil, beaten to give the consistency of mayonnaise).
Rice is not the only dish cooked in the paella
pan. Fideua is a type of paella, originally from Gandia, cooked
with noodles and fish stock. A popular regional tapa is stuffed
squid, calamares rellenos. The pouch-like squid body is stuffed
with tomatoes, onion, ham, and sometimes even apple. Squid can
also be eaten by cutting the body into rings, coating in breadcrumbs
and deep frying, known as calamares a la romana. Let us not
forget that the coastal strip in Valencia is one of the most
fertile regions in Spain, producing up to four crops a year.
Since the middle ages a water tribunal has met every week at
the gates of Valencia cathedral to adjudicate on disputes over
water usage. The fresh produce on sale in the markets is superb,
tomatoes, artichokes, cherries from the Vall de la Gallinera,
and the finest oranges in the world.
In the towns around Valencia it is common
to see bars selling a sweet drink made from tiger nut milk called
horchata. The drink originates from the town of Alboraya, to
the north of Valencia, where the chufa (tiger nut) flourishes
in the sandy soil. The tiger nuts are ground down and mixed
with lemon juice, cinnamon and sugar to create a refreshing
drink. The taste is reminiscent of almonds, and the drink is
often accompanied by sweet breadsticks called fartons - please
don't giggle its true!
Spain is largest producer of almonds after
the United States. In the dry area around Alicante the almonds
are harvested in August and September by spreading large cloths
underneath the trees and shaking the fruit loose. These almonds
are used to create a delicacy called turron, traditionally eaten
at Christmas. Thought to have been introduced by the Moors,
turron is made by roasting the almonds and slow cooking them
with honey and egg white. There are two main varieties, hard
Alicante turron and soft Jijona turron, which is produced by
grinding the almond and honey mix into a glutinous smooth paste.