|Hemingway forever consecrating La Pepica in his book, The Dangerous Summer, |
as a "must visit" spot for American tourists in Valencia.
What's more, since I live here in Valencia, home to the famous rice dish, I feel obliged to explain that rice culture in this region runs deep, and is not just about paella. Valencians are really big rice eaters in general. Among the dishes you can sample, there are, broadly speaking, at least five different categories of classic rice plates: "paella," "arroz meloso" and "caldoso," "arroz al horno," and "pimientos rellenos" (or stuffed peppers).
Within the "paella" dish spectrum, the most famous variations are:
• "de pollo y conejo" (chicken and rabbit) also called "la paella valenciana" (it sometimes also has "caracoles," or snails)… this is the traditional meat paella [For instructions on how to make it, check out this series of blog entries.]
• "de marisco" (seafood)
• "de verduras" (vegetable paella, which can change with the season, so that in winter, for example, it is nice because it has artichokes hearts).
• "arròs negre" (a rich flavored black paella made with squid ink)
• "a banda" (plain rice cooked in a broth)
• "l'arròs del senyoret" (this is the marisco paella, but with all the shells pealed and removed… thus the name: "rice [prepared] for a lord")
|La paella valenciana, as prepared and displayed by my mother-in-law.|
"the local water—dreadful for drinking—seems to have a unique chemical composition that is perfect for rice cookery." — in The Foods and Wines of Spain, p. 174.
|Ajoaceite, or "All i oli" in Catalán.|
And though they look a lot like paella, the "arroz meloso" and "arroz caldoso" are technically not. These soupier rice dishes are cooked in a slightly deeper pan, the meloso version leaving the rice just slightly moist with caldo (broth), whereas the caldoso is pretty much a rice soup. One truly delicious variation is "arroz meloso con bogavante," which is a soupy rice cooked with a regional lobster.
|The classic arroz al horno|
|Pimiento rellenos, a homemade Valencian staple|
The best place to eat paella is naturally at your mom or mother-in-law's house. But if you can't get invited to a local's home, there are other remedies. One is to attend one of the many paella street festivals in the region throughout the year. But in terms of restaurants, for die-hard, true lovers of paella, _the_ place to eat it is El Palmar, a pueblo south of the city and right next to the Albufera lake where the special "arroz de Valencia" rice is grown. Most if not all the "arrocerías" (rice restaurants) there will serve excellent paella, though one that is particularly nice is called Nou Racó (previously El Racó del L'Olla), which has a strong international reputation and is located right on the lake.
|A nighttime view of Nou Racó taken from the Albufera lake|
The Albufera Park is itself worth a visit (and perhaps a future blog entry). You can reserve a complete visit to the Nou Racó restaurant where you take a ride on one of the shallow (gondola-like) boats over the lake, visit the museum which talks about the park (the largest bird migration spot in southern Europe), and most importantly, have lunch at the restaurant Nou Racó. However, this paella mecca requires either taking a bus or taxi, or having a car.
|Arroz caldoso de bogavante|
Oh, and one final piece of advice. People here _always_ have these rice dishes for lunch, _never_ for dinner. It actually struck my wife as odd when one of our visitors once asked if we could do a paella for dinner. Just something to keep in mind.