Valencia on a plate

by Adam Jacot de Boinod

With thousands of bars, cafeterias and restaurants, there's fabulous food to be had in Valencia - you just need to know the right places to look...

A little something?
The Spanish have got snacking down to an art and it’s easy to see why Café Lisboa is such a firm favourite with Valencians. It’s tucked away in the shabby-chic Plaza Doctor Collado and is a great place to relax if you want to get away from the larger, busier squares. Sit under the shade of the twisty olive tree and linger over your morning coffee, or grab a cold beer and a bite of tapas. Lisboa serves up typical dishes, such as calamares, patatas bravas and enormous plates of jamón, as well as freshly grilled vegetables and crunchy salads. (€3.50+)
If that doesn’t fill you up, head to La Taberna de la Reina, in the sunny Plaza de la Reina, and help yourself to the mouth-watering array of pinchos. A pincho is a little slice of bread stacked with a tower of delicious toppings. Cream cheese and salmon… jamón with olives… crab mayonnaise… the combinations are endless! The whole thing is artfully held together by a cocktail stick speared through the middle. Take a plate from the counter and help yourself to whatever you fancy. When you’ve finished eating, the waiter will causally count up the number of cocktail sticks on your plate to work out your bill. (€1.50+)
The perfect paella
Forget seafood paella with mussels and prawns - Valencian paella is a far meatier affair. The dish originated in the 18th century, just outside the city by Lake Albufera. Locals would toss whatever they could get their hands on into shallow pans called paelleras and heat them up over open fires. Rumour has it that the original recipe included marsh rat, but thankfully that option has been off the menu for a few centuries! Nowadays, Valencian paella is made with a tasty combination of rabbit, chicken, duck and, occasionally, a handful of snails.
The town of El Palmar, in Albufera Nature Park, is a popular destination for paella restaurants. Most serve seafood paella as well as the meaty kind. Nou Racó is a local favourite. It gets pretty booked up during high season, so phone ahead to make a reservation (€30). If you don’t want to travel out of the city, head to La Pepica, down on Malvarrosa beach. This is where Ernest Hemingway came for his paella. The chef may be different now, but the paella is still delicious! (€40)
If you’ve never visited Valencia before, chances are you haven’t heard of horchata. The drink, made from tiger nut milk, is a regional speciality. It’s served in a tall glass, with sugary finger-buns called fartons. Horchatería de Santa Catalina, on Plaza de Santa Catalina, serves the most delicious horchata in the city. The narrow entrance opens up into a smartly tiled interior with marble-topped tables and uniformed waiters. Head inside and dunk your fartons in style! (€5)
Vegetarian Valencia
It’s a tricky business being a vegetarian in Spain, but you won’t have to survive on tortilla and bread while you’re in Valencia! The Nature, in Plaza Vannes, is a brilliant fusion of Mediterranean and Asian vegetarian cuisine and is extremely popular with local workers at lunchtime. It’s fairly plain inside but the food will have you bouncing up and down with excitement. Fresh salads, chickpeas with mint, spicy tofu, roasted aubergine, vegetarian paella… the list goes on. The fantastic buffet lunch costs €7.90 and you can help yourself to as much as you like; dessert is included, too. The doors open at 1.30pm, and by 1.45 you’ll struggle to get a table, so make sure you get here early!
Mercado Central
With hundreds of food stalls under its domed roof, Valencia’s central market is one of the largest covered markets in Europe. The building is a testament to modernist architecture, with soaring ceilings, ornate wrought iron and gorgeous stained glass. You can find everything on sale here, from tasty pastries to dried octopus. Locals flock to the market to pick up fresh produce and it’s fun to wander around the lively stalls and observe all the prodding and gesticulating that goes on. If you’re after an edible souvenir, you’ll be completely spoilt for choice at Mercado Central. Why not take home a greeny-gold bottle of olive oil or some freshly-baked almond biscuits? Or maybe you could try some of that delicious dried octopus...


Getting there
Ryanair, easyJet and Iberia all fly to Valencia.
Where to stay
Budget: Hôme has two hostels in the city. The one on Calle La Lonja has a roof terrace.
Mid-range: the sleek Chill Art Hotel Jardín Botánico is in the heart of lively Barrio del Carmen.
High-end: Vincci Palace has a gorgeous façade and elegant contemporary rooms.