There are a lot of things to love about Valencia. The Valencia beach, the architecture, the love of the outdoors. For me, though, it’s the Valencia food. There is just something about the Valencia cuisine that I found a little surprising, even though we live just a bit up the coast. There’s something to the Valencia restaurants, and the food and drink, that made us plan our return trip before we even left. Maybe this was because our trip to Valencia (this being our second visit) happened to coincide with one of those days with typically beautiful Valencia Spain weather. But, I like to think it was all about the food.
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Valencia Food Guide
Since moving to Spain I’ve learned a few important things about Spanish cuisine. First, Spanish food is very regional. Dishes that are eaten in Catalonia probably aren’t eaten in Andalusia. That is doubly important when it comes to Valencia Spain. In many of our blog posts about Spanish dishes, I talk about paella, a lot. Generally, I am trying to answer the question travelers always have about where to find the best paella in [insert Spanish city here]. I talk about how regional Spanish cuisine is and that to truly find the best paella you have to travel to Valencia. In fact, I often advise against eating paella in Seville or Malaga or anywhere else. It’s just not local.
Finally, in this post we will talk about paella, and whether it is the national food of Spain. But, more than that we will talk about what else there is to eat in Valencia. Because there is more to Valencia than paella! Every Valencia food guide should share tips on what to eat in Valencia Spain. This guide, though, goes a little further and talks about Spanish food culture and the regional cuisine of Spain. We also share some Valencia tips for drink lovers too.
*This post contains compensated links. Find more info in my DISCLAIMER.
What is Traditional Spanish Food in Valencia
Valencian cuisine is loaded with unique flavors, distinct from other Spanish regional cuisines. Valencia is the third-largest city in Spain (after Madrid and Barcelona, but before Seville). That means it’s a little more cosmopolitan than other Spanish cities too. I was entirely tempted while visiting to eat Indian food or dumplings or even burgers at one of our favorite American burger chains. Instead, we focused on typical Spanish food that is particular to Valencia. In this post, we will share tips on some very Valencian dishes as well as other Spanish dishes that you should track down during a trip to Valencia.
Where to Stay in Valencia
We stayed at the AC Marriott Hotel Valencia, which is close to the City of Arts and Sciences Valencia. We really enjoy the AC Hotels, which is a Spain hotel chain that is now part of Marriott. This AC Hotel is a great find if you plan on renting a car to explore the region, or plan to spend most of your time at the City of Arts and Sciences. During the summer it’s not too far from the beach either. As an alternative, the AC Marriott Colon Valencia is located in the heart of Old Town and is more centrally located.
Check the latest prices for the AC Marriott Hotel Valencia here.
Check the latest prices for the AC Marriott Colon here.
Find the best rates for Valencia hotels here.
Is Paella the National Spanish Dish?
It’s time to get real with some facts about paella. Paella is without a doubt the most famous of Spanish dishes. When travelers are new to Spain it is a dish that they focus on eating, regardless of where they are traveling to in Spain. I, personally, have taken it upon myself since moving to Catalonia, Spain, to educate people about paella and other arroz, or rice, dishes. I, like many people from Valencia, believe that paella should only be eaten in Valencia, not in the rest of Spain.
History of Paella
First, why is paella associated with Valencia? Rice arrived in Spain from the East, via the spice route. The Moors introduced rice to the area in the 10th Century. The reason why it took hold in Valencia is that the Albufera wetlands that surround Valencia are perfect for growing rice. To be true Paella Valenciana, the rice should be cooked in a giant pot, called a caldero, over an open wood fire, preferably made from the wood of an orange tree, outdoors. This is why it is almost impossible to find “real” paella anywhere else in Spain.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the Spanish tourism board and its marketing tried to catapult Spain onto the international tourism circuit. Part of this process meant creating a national dish, and they choose paella to be that dish. The version sold to tourists was part of a marketing campaign. On signs outside restaurants around the country, this most “popular” of Spanish dishes is often pictured using yellowish rice, with large prawns, green peas, and strips of red pepper. Often these restaurant signs are from industrial paella companies, selling frozen paella to tourist restaurants and even bars for locals, all around the country.
Yes, this is why I am skeptical of paella in cities around Spain. But, paella in Valencia is a different story. It’s so important to the cultural identity of Valencianos that there is an organization trying to reclaim the quality of a proper paella called, of all things, Wikipaella. Keep reading to learn more about a proper Paella Valenciana, and what else there is to eat in Valencia.
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What To Eat in Valencia – Traditional Valencia Food
In this post, we share the 13+ foods you must try in Valencia. We include both Valencian dishes and other regional Spanish cuisines. We also provide a few recommendations on the best restaurants in Valencia to find some of these dishes. There are so many great restaurants in Valencia Spain, and we certainly haven’t eaten at them all. You can find a lot of these Valencian dishes at most typical Valencia restaurants. This list, though, should provide a good roadmap. Yes, we start with paella, but then also talk about some of its cousin dishes as well.
Many travelers assume that paella includes seafood, including prawns. But, the traditional Paella Valenciana includes chicken, rabbit, local white beans (garrafo) and wide green beans (judia ferradura). Some include mountain snails. There is even some disagreement within Valencia about what is included in paella because many families had their own version based on the very local ingredients and that family’s tradition. The best paella also includes a layer of crispy rice along the bottom called a socarrat, caramelized grains of rice. And, Paella Valenciana is not a glowing yellow. It’s browner in color, due to the meat cooking down in olive oil, tomato, and a pinch of saffron. And, Paella Valenciana is only one kind of rice dish. The best paella restaurants in Valencia will more often than not include a dozen or more different local rice dishes, not just Paella Valenciana.
This all begs the question, if you are eating “paella” elsewhere in Spain what are you eating? If you avoid those touristy restaurants with the sandwich boards outside selling industrial paella, you are most likely eating arroz, or rice. In Catalonia, it might be rice with meat and seafood, or mar i muntanya. It might be an arroz negro, or a black rice made with squid ink.
Where to find the best paella in Valencia Spain? With some of these top paella restaurants, it’s best to make a reservation ahead of time, particularly on the weekend. Most paella dishes are prepared for a minimum of two people. It’s best to eat this Valencia dish for lunch because it’s so filling, and that’s when the Valencianos would normally eat paella. Check out Palace Fesol on Calle Hernan Cortes for an authentic experience. They have Paella Valenciana and about a dozen other rice varieties. Or, check out Casa Carmela close to the Valencia beach or L’Estimat near the port.
Arroz Caldoso and Other Rice Dishes
What are some of these other rice dishes? Some of the several dozen rice dishes that are not paella? Although paella is an arroz seco, or dry rice, there are more soupy rice dishes and rices that fall in between. The more soupy rice dish is known as arroz caldoso. The version we ate was arroz caldoso con nabos y judías, with turnips and white beans. It was more liquidy, requiring a spoon. The server carried the cauldron to us to display it and then used a ladle to scoop out the rice for each of us. My picture is atrocious because the pot looked so darn heavy and hot that I didn’t want to put out the server asking her to hold it for too long!
Arroz meloso is in between the dry and soupy rice varieties. There is arroz a banda, which is a dry rice made with fish and seafood. Arroz con costra has an egg on top. I could go on. Many of these rice dishes are not even cooked in a typical “paella” pan. Instead, they might be cooked in a large cast-iron pot or metal cauldron depending on whether it is a soupy rice dish. My recommendation? If you have the time and stomach space try a Paella Valenciana but then try one of the numerous other rice dishes to compare. Just don’t order the industrially produced “paella.”
When I first visited Catalonia I wrongly assumed that Fideua was nothing more than a paella that swapped out noodles for rice. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Although popular throughout Catalonia and the Costa Brava, Fideua is from Gandia, a town in the Valencia province. There’s even an annual Fideua cooking contest there.
Fideuà uses short pieces of vermicelli noodles instead of rice. The noodles are not cooked ahead of time, but cooked in the pan, browned by olive oil. Then, it soaks in the juice from the fish or seafood broth used to cook the fideua. It’s also a great option when you’ve eaten more rice than you planned on, which often happens. Since moving to Spain this is one of my favorite Spain food dishes and one that I crave. I like to add a large dollop of aioli, a spread of garlic and olive oil.
Where to eat fideua in Valencia? Most of the best places to eat in Valencia that serve paella also serve fideua, but check the menu ahead of time just to be sure.
All i Pebre
This is a Valenciana recipe that is not for the faint of heart. All i pebre might not be the most famous Spanish food, but this eel and potato stew is a point of pride for Valencianos. The eel and potatoes are stewed in tomatoes, garlic, and paprika. The stew itself is tasty and the eel is moist and tender. In the end, it’s nothing to be scared about at all. It’s definitely a must eat food in Valencia Spain.
Unlike most of our Andalusia food guides, which focus a lot on tapas, I couldn’t write a “Tapas in Valencia Guide.” Sure, tapas are found in Valencia, but much like in Catalonia, tapas are not really a Valencian thing. That said, there are a few small plate starter dishes that are very typical Valencian dishes. Esgarraet is one of these dishes and could be one of the best “tapas” in Valencia. Esgarraet includes strips of bacalao, a salted codfish that is eaten across Spain and Portugal. The bacalao is layered with roasted red peppers and drizzled in olive oil.
Stewed Broad Beans
This Valencia tapas dish is far from a popular food in Spain. In fact, I’ve never heard of it before a plate was placed in front of me. This traditional Valencian food includes stewed broad beans, a reddish-colored fava bean. They are cooked slowly in a sauce, normally flavored with ham or chorizo. This was not my favorite of the tapas in Valencia at first. Yet, once I started I couldn’t stop eating them. There was something about the flavor of the sauce (most likely pork-related) that kept me poking those beans with my fork over and over.
Where to find stewed broad beans? This is not a common Valencia tapa, so if you find it on a menu, order it. Try it at Casa Montana, which is closer to the beach on Calle d’Isabel de Villena.
Horchata and Fartons – Breakfast in Valencia
This was one of the drinks I was most interested in trying in Valencia because it is truly a Valencian specialty. Horchata is a typical drink for the warm weather in Valencia during the summer. It’s a milk-like substance but made from tiger nuts instead of cow milk. That makes it a vegan-friendly Spanish drink. It’s milky, creamy, and sweet. There is a little more texture than typical milk, almost with a chalkiness to it. Although you can find horchata year-round, it’s most commonly served with fartons, a long, thin, sweet bread sprinkled with sugar or frosting.
Where to drink horchata in Valencia? In the summer you can find horchata at little carts pushed around town. In the carts you can find it in liquid form, or frozen into a granita. You can also find it at L’Orxateria del Mercat Central, Horchatería Daniel at Mercato de Colon, or Horchatería Santa Catalina on Plaça de Santa Catalina.
Other Typical Spanish Foods to Eat in Valencia
We’ve covered the typical Valencian dishes that you should eat during a visit to the city. We ate a lot more than that during our visit to Valencia, though. Here we talk about typical Spanish foods that you should eat in Valencia or local versions of national Spanish foods.
I would not necessarily consider oysters as typical Valencian dishes, but there are oyster farms just outside of the city. While dining at Colmado LaLola we actually met one such oyster farmer. Although we didn’t actually order oysters that night, the oyster farmer and the owner of Colmado LaLola insisted we try some. They were beefy and juicy and tasted fresh of the sea. If you are an oyster lover I would definitely recommend searching for a Valencia seafood restaurant that carries the local Valencian oysters.
Although not a traditional Valencian food, bacalao is popular all over Spain, as are croquettas, deep-fried balls of tastiness. Putting them together is a real treat. Try a bacalao croquetta, which includes potato and bacalao, a soft salted cod.
One of the more unique Spanish foods is mojama, a salt-cured tuna that is typical in Andalusia. Traditionally, fishermen would cure fish to help them last longer. Here, the tuna is cured, or dried, with salt. When ready to eat it’s sliced and drizzled with a little local olive oil. I wouldn’t add this onto a list of the most common tapas in Spain, but it is pretty common in Andalusia, particularly at seafood restaurants. It also can be found in Valencia. I would recommend it because it’s not a typical Spanish dish that many travelers know about. This mojama is from Casa Montana, where it was drizzled in olive oil and mustard seeds, giving it a nice little tang.
Pimiento del Piquillo Relleno
I love how to Spanish find unique ways to stuff a red pepper. At a vermouth bar in Girona, I go ga-ga over a small, sweet red pepper stuffed with goat cheese. We have a poultry stall at the Girona market that stuffs the peppers with shredded chicken. This version, though, at Casa Montana took the typical red pepper and studded it with bonito, a type of tuna, along with bechamel sauce. Then, of course, it was fried. This version might not be common at most Valencia restaurants, but you might find different kinds of stuffed peppers. Just go with it.
I love boquerones and feel like I talk about them in every Spain food travel blog I write! These are anchovies, but unlike any anchovy, I ever saw in the US. They can be served deep fried (yum) or fresh, often marinated with olive oil and vinegar. We ate a particularly good version of boquerones at Central Bar at the Central Market. Central Bar is from by Chef Ricard Camarena, who has a Michelin Star Restaurant in Valencia. This version could easily be the best food in Valencia Spain, well at least it was my favorite dish we ate.
We generally love visiting the bars at markets around Spain. Santa Catarina Market in Barcelona has a bunch of good restaurants. Our local market in Girona offers a very traditional bar that we love. Central Bar, though, offers more contemporary versions of traditional Spanish tapas, including some fabulous looking bocatos, or sandwiches. They also offer a good selection of local Valencia wines by the glass. It’s a must visit at the Valencia central market.
Bunyols and Churros – Dessert in Valencia (Or Breakfast)
Bunyols are the closest thing to donuts in Spain. They are fried fritters that are most popular around Easter, or the Las Fallas festival in March. More recently, they can be found all year round. Look for them in bakery windows. Churros are not necessarily a typical food that is unique to Valencia, but how can you go wrong with churros and chocolate for a snack, dessert, or breakfast.
What and Where to Drink in Valencia
In addition to horchata, which is discussed above, there are a few other drinks to track down in Valencia. Now that we live in Spain, frankly, we can’t go more than a few days without having a vermouth. Vermouth is a fortified wine with a bitter and sweet flavor. It’s normally drunk before lunch or before dinner as an aperitif, to help open up the appetite for a meal. You can find vermouth at most traditional bars in Valencia. Ask for a “vermouth de la casa” or a house vermouth.
Also try tracking down a good gin and tonic, or “gin tonic” as the locals say. The Spanish have a fascination with gin that I am totally okay with. To find a proper bar for a gin tonic, look for people drinking out of large balloon-shaped gin glasses. Or, look for an extensive gin menu. If you like gin, you must try an Iberian gin and tonic in Valencia. Eric had a great gin tonic at Cafe Madrid in Valencia’s old town. The bartenders were very knowledgeable and able to recommend local Valencia gins too.
As for local wine, try the Mistela, a sweet fortified wine that can be found at many traditional bars, sometimes straight from the barrel. There are also some interesting craft beer bars in Valencia, some of which are brewing their own craft beer. Check out Sanders Craft Beer, a little outside of the city center but worth it if you are near the City of Arts and Sciences. They are brewing their own beer, and make great Indian food too! A strange mix that actually works.
Aqua de Valencia
A bartender at the famous Cafe Madrid in Valencia created this drink that is now synonymous with Valencia. It’s made from fresh-squeezed Valencian oranges, along with cava, vodka, and gin. It actually packs a little more of a punch than your typical mimosa. Regardless, it’s a perfect drink for the Valencian summers. Although you can order an Aqua de Valencia in a glass, it’s most commonly served in a pitcher to be shared at the table.
Where to find Aqua de Valencia? Although this drink is on every drink menu in Valencia, I would recommend Cafe de Las Horas for the ambiance. It’s an old-school cafe with stars on the ceiling, crystal chandeliers, and flower garland everywhere. I felt like at any minute cherubs would fly off the walls to serenade us. As much as I like traditional Spanish bars, this one was a little too much for us (as Eric’s face dictates above). Otherwise, try the Agua de Valencia at Cafe Madrid. They just take their cocktails seriously there. The atmosphere is very contemporary even though the bar has been around since the 1950s. That’s why the Aqua de Valencia in the photo above looks like it’s glowing.
Want to Learn More About Valencia Food and Drink?
While traveling in Spain, I relied on this book Grape, Olive, Pig: Deep Travels Through Spain’s Food Culture by Matt Goulding to learn not just about Valencia cuisine but as I educate myself about Spanish foods. I think it’s important to learn about Spain foods because I now live in Spain. The book includes some of the stories behind some of the most typical food from Spain and Spain food traditions. He also writes an entire chapter about paella in Valencia! If you want to learn more, check out this book!
Want to learn how to cook Valencia food recipes at home? As soon as I returned home, I vowed to spend more time learning how to COOK Spanish food. So, I bought Claudia Roden’s the Food of Spain. The book includes the history of the regional cuisine of Spain as well as hundreds of traditional recipes from all over the country. It also includes information on key Spain food facts to learn more about the regional cuisine. The book is simply lovely too, with pretty photos and illustrations. I enjoy reading about food while sipping Spanish wine, and yes, actually making some of the recipes too.
FAQs – All About Valencia Spain
- Where is Valencia? Valencia is a city in Spain and the capital of the province of Valencia. It’s on the east coast of Spain along the Mediterranean Sea.
- How far is Valencia from Barcelona? Valencia is about a 3 1/2 hours drive down the coast from Barcelona. It’s also possible to take the Euromed train between the two cities in about three hours.
- Can I use the RENFE Spain Rail Pass to travel to Valencia? We traveled around Spain for two weeks using a RENFE Spain Pass. The RENFE Spain Pass allows travelers to book a train pass for 4, 6, 8, or 10 journeys for a set price, starting at €250. You can book the rail pass before leaving home and then make reservations for seats online, or at the train station, for each journey. The pass is valid for one month from the date of the first journey. We used the pass to travel from Malaga to Valencia and Valencia to Barcelona. Learn more about the RENFE Spain Pass here.
- Where can I learn more about Valencia Spain food and travel? For more information on Valencia Spain travel, check out the Valencia Tourism Board’s website.
*This post contains compensated links. Find more info in my DISCLAIMER. We were hosted by Visit Valencia, but all opinions are our own.
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Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new Food and Drink Destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together over the last 20 years, they have traveled to over 70 countries. Amber is the author of the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna.