El albergue

El albergue

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A bit of Valencian gastronomy

This past weekend was a longer than usual weekend due to some lovely Spanish holidays, so my roommates and I took advantage of our extra time off to head over to the eastern coast of Spain.  Destination, Valencia.  I went there last year with a friend before our study abroad program started in September, but I really enjoyed my experience, so I had no problem going back.  In fact, it felt kind of like I was going back and revisiting an old friend whom I hadn’t seen in quite a while.

Even the simple brie with tomato marmalade
looked breathtaking.
Overall, it was a very nice weekend, with a chance to see the city during a different season and with slightly different experiences, but the best part by far was the food we ate.  The first on the list of heavenly delights was pinchos.  What are pinchos you ask?  It’s a traditional Basque food that basically puts almost anything on top of nice slices of baguette-type bread.  But as general and unimaginative as that might sound, believe you me, there is nothing unimaginative about the pinchos over here, especially the pinchos we had our first night in town.  It took us forever to decide which ones we wanted as we drooled over the glass case displaying a bazillion tantalizing options.  When we finally bit into our different selections, our eyes fairly rolled back into our heads with the shear joy of eating.  My choice was a little mountain of sautéed mushrooms and eggplant seasoned to perfection and topped with the tiniest fried egg - I think it might have been from a dove or some such small bird.  And Kelsey’s…I got to taste hers, and oh wow was it ever amazing.  On top of a carefully arranged stack of caramelized onions, typical jamón ibérico, and brie cheese, a delicate blueberry marmalade brought the whole thing together in a way never dreamed of.  Kels felt like she was going out on a limb to order it, but she was more than amply rewarded for her adventurous spirit by that little bit of heaven.

The second most exciting food we got to try while in Valencia was the horchata.  That may not sound so extremely special to everyone from California, since we all know Mexican horchata.  But according to the Valencians, horchata is only horchata if it comes from their town.  In fact, the drink apparently originated there.  Also, this original horchata isn’t made from rice like the one we all know and love.  Rather, it is made using a little root thing kind of like a crisp peanut called a chufa.  We got to eat a bit of toasted chufa, and it was rather an interesting experience feeling the little nodule crunch between our teeth in a manner somewhat reminiscent of styrofoam and jicama.  But I wander from the real point, the horchata….

Horchata - sure to bring a smile to your face.
As you slowly sip it through your straw, cold and creamy waves slide over your tongue, exposing a delicious melody of feel and flavor to be explored.  First, there is the chllly freshness that both soothes and piques you.  Nest, you note the texture, something more similar to almond milk than regular milk in its silky creaminess free from the heavily rich feel of fat.  You feel a delicate sensation of flour-iness that stays behind as the horchata makes its way to your throat, akin to that you experience when licking the pancake batter bowl.  In fact, the flavor tastes somewhat like a good pancake batter, with additional hints of coconut and a bit of the deepness of a good nut.  You also taste the strong sweetness of a lot of sugar and the dreamy shadow of cinnamon hovering in the background.  And as you swallow, the first thing you think of is that you want another drink.

Smiles are also a surety when there's Agua de
Valencia around.
Also amazingly delicious was the Agua de Valencia, a well-loved local drink made from champagne, orange juice, and an orange liqueur.  Why is this particular combination representative of the area?  Well, Valencia is famous for its oranges – in fact, valencias are some of the most-grown oranges in California – so it only makes sense for a local drink to have them as its starring flavor.  And starring flavor it is.  The drink as a whole combined the crispness of the champagne with a slight creaminess and undertones of vanilla to truly display the bright freshness of the orange to its full advantage.  Again, this was another drink that left you wanting more.  So much more.

There were other things we ate too, of course, including buttery muffins with a dry crumb called magdalenas, paella, crema de chufa (horchata in ice cream form) and the world’s best dried melon, but those three things were the best – pinchos, horchata, and Agua de Valencia.  They are the things I would most strongly recommend to anyone who might perchance want to visit Valencia, as well as the things I am most definitely planning on tasting again some time in the future.  Oh yes, they are going on the keeper list.

We had a nice lunch of magdalenas and apple
on our hostel terrace.
Nothing like some paella when visiting Valencia
Crema de chufa, baby!
Heck, even the street art is appetizing in Valencia!

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