As we neared the end of our two-week Spain vacation, we made one final stop before returning to Barcelona: Valencia, Spain. In many ways, the ambiance and bustling energy of these two cities are very similar, but Valencia feels welcoming and familiar in a way that not many cities do. Maybe this characteristic is just a side effect of the city’s rich culinary culture as the birthplace of Spanish paella. Nothing is quite as inviting as delicious food and kind people willing to share it with you, which is exactly what our experience in Valencia was all about! Here are my top food experiences to enjoy when visiting Valencia:
Ruzafa Market and My First Paella – To kick off our time in Valencia, I signed my family up for a pealla cooking class that began at the local market, where we would purchase ingredients (including a special bean found only in authentic Valencian paellas). As soon as we walked into the Ruzafa Market with our guide and the rest of the group, we were mesmerized. It felt like we had stepped into the heart of the community. Local patrons browsed the plump, colorful arrays of produce, the rows of fresh meat and cheese, and the shiny, slippery seafood section. We met and bought ingredients from vendors whose families had been working in this market for generations. But mixed with the mesmerizing was also a bit of horror. I saw things that I’ve never seen back home, like the small, dog-like animal in the fresh meats sections that I later learned was a skinned rabbit (RIP Thumper) and the glassy, bulging eyes of the fish that stared at us as we made our seafood purchases. Every aspect of our visit to the market, comfortable or uncomfortable, was a glimpse into real Spanish culture.
The next stop was the studio kitchen where we would be cooking our very own paella! After adorning some aprons and nibbling on some delicious appetizers (the best indication of how the main course will taste 😉 ), we began prepping and cooking our paella. Here is the process step-by-step:
Towards the end of the cooking process, our hostess brought out a star anise-infused liquor and poured everyone a shot while she explained to us that, in Valencia, cooking a paella is an all-day affair and this is how people like to celebrate when the cooking is done. It wasn’t the most delicious thing I tried that day, but I could appreciate the tradition.
Finally, it was time to eat the paella! After cooking and getting to know each other all morning, our group sat down around the long table, chatting like old friends. No matter that we represented four different continents and spoke at least three different languages. We had bonded over food and now we were could enjoy it together. The paella was everything I had hoped for. The rice was perfectly cooked and soaked with flavor. The beans were bright and crispy, and the meat was juicy and tender. *sigh* It was an amazing meal.
Let me just say that, as a foodie, booking this cooking class was one of the best decisions of our entire trip. My whole family loved this experience and every scrumptious bite that we ate that day. Thank you Marta and Inma for making us feel at home in your kitchen!
After we recovered from our food comas, we found two more great food spots:
The Central Market of Valencia – The Central Market of Valencia is even larger than the Ruzafa Market with hundreds of Spanish delicacies to snack on. The eye-catching stained-glass windows and domed ceiling are other great reasons to visit.
L’Alquimista Italian restaurant had a rustic, laid-back appeal and simple, delicious dishes… you can really never go wrong when your main ingredients are cheese and pasta.
Valencia’s heartwarming comfort food and friendly locals made this city feel like a dream. I will always treasure the culture and customs represented in their beautiful cuisine.
All photos edited by Caitlyn Cuello