Friday, April 27, 2012

Original Paella in Valencia

The pearl of eastern Iberia, Valencia was contested between Christians and Moors in medieval times, and the old town echoes with these ancient cultures. In stark contrast, the City of Arts and Sciences may be the world’s most futuristic complex. Old or new, every quarter of the city cherishes paella, a dish that perfectly captures the salty, earthy essence of Valencia.

Valencia’s medieval center, its exceptional white-sand beaches, and its gleaming modern yacht harbor should be enough to satisfy anyone. But after the Turia River flooded catastrophically in 1957, Valencia remade itself by rerouting the river and creating a parkland in the dry riverbed. The capstone of civic reinvention was the astonishing City of Arts and Sciences, a “city within a city” designed by native son and avant-garde architectural superstar Santiago Calatrava. So marvelous is this paean to artistic and scientific discovery that visitors are torn between just wandering among the buildings, which function as giant-scale outdoor sculpture, and going inside to wander among first-class exhibitions and performances. No such transformation has ever been necessary to Valencian cuisine, where paella is king. When the Moors introduced rice to Europe through Valencia in the 8th century, the dish became all but inevitable.

Right : Many cooks today add smoked paprika to give their paella the earthy, smoky taste traditionally imparted by cooking over a wood fire .
Left : The secret to a great paella lies in the sofrito, a slow browning of meat and vegetables, before the rice is added to the paellera .

The original paella valenciana uses the bounty of the garden plot to create a dish that is simultaneously light and earthy, as crisp green beans combine with sweet tomatoes and peppers and the chewy, meaty morsels of land snails and hare. The more famous paella de mariscos bristles with the sweet, crunchy shrimp and other shellfish of the Valencian coast. But in every form of paella, the rice is key.
Valencian rice can absorb up to four times its volume in liquid while still remaining firm, swelling prodigiously as it soaks up wine, fish broth, chicken stock, squid ink, or vegetable juices. Cooked in a paellera – the shallow, wide iron pan that gives paella its name – the dish forms a definitive nutty, caramelized golden crust, or socarrat, at the base of the pan. The best paellas also absorb a smoky flavor from cooking over a wood fire.
Some of the city’s leading paella restaurants are found on Playa Malvarossa, the broad beach where locals and visitors swim and bask in the Mediterranean sun. Diners patiently await tables, knowing that the rituals of paella cannot be rushed.
First comes the difficult choice over the type of paella, then the wait, as the dish is prepared to order, before – finally – the waiter presents a paellera big enough to serve the entire table. It is a celebration of centuries of gastronomic fusion in a single dish. Best Places to Eat Paella La Pepica moderate Ernest Hemingway, Orson Welles, and their matador friends all heaped praises on La Pepica, where the menu features a modest eight rice dishes. These encompass all that is great about Valencian rice cookery, from the classic paella valenciana and the shellfish-topped paella marinera to the squid-and-its-ink arroz negro.
The formality of the wait staff, smartly clad in white shirts and black waistcoats, heightens the sense of ceremony, especially when the paella is presented with a slight bow. The restaurant was established in 1898 on Playa Malvarossa and remains the principal temple of paella in the city that invented the dish.
The front door is on the beach, but entering through the back from Paseo Neptuno gives customers a look behind the scenes at the voluminous kitchen of blue-and-white tiles and stainless-steel appliances where paelleras of every size dangle overhead.
2, 6, 8 Paseo Neptuno, Playa de la Malvarossa, Valencia; open for lunch Mon–Sun, dinner Mon–Sat;
Also in Valencia
At the edge of the old city, Restaurante de Ana (; moderate) is a stickler about using exquisite fresh snails in its paella valenciana. Its arroz estilo Albufera is a paella with succulent duck. Traditional paella at the chic eatery of superchef Vicente Chust, Restaurante Chust Godoy (www.; expensive), is well worth the one-hour wait for its preparation.
Also in the Valencia Region
Literally across the road from rice fields in the Albufera, La Matandeta in Alfafar (; moderate; open Easter–Sep only) often prepares its sublime paellas in the outdoor courtyard during the summer months. The casual El Pescador (+34 965 842 571; inexpensive) in Altea creates excellent seafood paellas as well as grilled local fish. In Elche, Els Capellans (+34 966 610 011; moderate) is famed for its Alicante-style paella studded with meatballs and topped with fluffy egg.
Around the World
Many restaurants in the great Mexican fishing port of Veracruz (try La Choca) make a delicious New World seafood paella called arroz a la tumbada, seasoned with hot peppers and usually topped with clams, shrimp, conch, squid, and red snapper. In New York City, Socarrat Paella Bar (www.; moderate) serves five different kinds of paella, including the traditional paella valenciana and a vegetarian version, and waiters offer to help you scrape up the crunchy socarrat at the bottom of the paellera.
The Mercado Central
More than 400 vendors fill Valencia’s central food market, and many more spill out on to the adjoining sidewalks and streets. The 1928 Modernista building is often cited as one of the largest covered markets in Europe. With its soaring ceilings and ornate central dome, it is a modern cathedral of gastronomy. Yet the fanciful architecture is upstaged by the bounty and beauty of the food stalls – pyramids of sweet oranges, glistening clear-eyed fish splayed out on crushed ice, thick green pods of fresh fava beans. The rich choices perhaps explain why Valencia’s cooks have invented so many variations of paella. Stall-hopping yields the essentials – large cloth bags of heirloom Bomba rice, heaping mounds of bright paprika, small tins of precious saffron, and an iron paellera.
A Day in Valencia
The ages of Valencia’s long history are evident everywhere. The Cathedral alone incorporates Roman relics and a Moorish minaret as its bell tower. As the city radiates outward, it becomes ever more modern, culminating in the futuristic fantasies of the architecture at the City of Arts and Sciences.
Marvel at the restored Renaissance-era frescoes in the stately Cathedral, then climb the minaret-turned-bell tower for a panorama of the old city.
Across Plaza de la Reina in an extravagant Baroque palace, the Museo Nacional de Cerámica features a charming tiled Valencian kitchen.
After photographing the interplay of forms in the City of Arts and Sciences, visit the planetarium at L’Hemisfèric or catch the graceful play of beluga whales and bottlenose dolphins at L’Oceanogràfic.
Stroll the narrow streets of the old fishermen’s quarter, El Cabanyal, until you reach the broad strand of Playa Malvarossa. Catch the last rays of the sun at this urban beach or join the Valencians as they promenade along the shore before an evening of socializing and dining.


Many European and Spanish airlines fly into Valencia Airport, and the city is well-served by train services from points all over Spain.


Hostal Venecia (inexpensive) has modest but cheerful rooms in a landmark building downtown.
Hotel Meliá Valencia (moderate) offers stylish, modern rooms near the City of Arts and Sciences.
Hotel Neptuno (expensive) makes the most of its beachfront location on Playa Malvarossa with a rooftop solarium.
Calle Paz;

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