Destination: Valencia, Spain
Mode of Transport: Paella
As I mentioned in the last post, for the next few weeks, I will be exploring a dish from one of the countries who are competing in the World Cup. One of the most important matches was between Spain and the Netherlands on June 13 – it was a very tough match for the Spaniards with the Dutch scoring 5 goals versus their 1. I’ve never been to the Netherlands, but have always wanted to go. Spain however, I’ve visited three times and still have so many towns and dishes to discover.
Even before Bailey was born, I had always dreamed about visiting Valencia for many reasons:
1 – I love rice – being Filipino of Chinese descent, it’s a staple in our diets. Valencia is the birthplace of paella and a dish I always wanted to try in its origins. Paella is the word for the pan it’s used to cook this rice. This dish, according to kitchen project, is famous in Valencia because it’s “where the Romans introduced irrigation and then the Arab conquerors that brought rice perfected it.” This dish started off as a meal for laborers in the mid 1800’s, where they started cooking with snails because it was cheap. Gradually, Valencians added more expensive meats and better ingredients, such as saffron.
2 – Europe’s largest aquarium is located in Valencia. I remember watching a documentary on TV about how the scientists managed to acquire the animals in that aquarium. Being a huge fan of anything aquatic (ie: watching Jacques Costeau as a kid), it was a big bucket list town for me.
3 – I wanted to go there for the America’s Cup in 2007. Being a luxury retailer at the time – having worked for the likes of Valentino, MaxMara, Armani, etc. – I thought it was incredibly cool and posh to be able to go to this event, like my clients did. Well, my wishes were as posh as my customer’s; unfortunately my wallet was not, so I couldn’t go. The America’s Cup and the aquarium really put Valencia on the tourist map. Years after the Cup, we still saw remnants of that yachting competition.
Thankfully, I was able to make it in 2011 – finally. Valencia didn’t start off very nicely for us. We decided to rent an apartment with two bedrooms so we could share the cost with our friend Mikey, who joined us for this trip. Well, a very long story short: the apartment renters Stay For Days tried to accomplish a “bait and switch” tactic on us, but we’re New Yorkers; we don’t take that crap! We ended up staying instead in a very nice hotel called Hospes Palau de la Mar,a hotel I remembered seeing on Samantha Brown’s show.
To this day, even though I’m sure apartment rentals are more organized, and all our money was given back to us – with the help of my credit card company – we try to stay at hotels.
Since we had 11 days in Valencia, we ate paella of all sorts and at many different restaurants. The paella in Valencia that we tried were all good; the main thing about the paella is that it must not be overcooked and that it has socarrat (the burnt bottom of the rice).
The most memorable one was the one we had at La Pepica; not necessarily because it was so much better than all the other paellas, but because it was eaten in the best of settings. It’s a restaurant located right on the beach (Paseo Neptuno). La Pepica has been serving food in that spot since 1898. It was frequented by Hemingway, one of Andrew’s and my favorite authors.
We ordered Paella La Pepica of course, which is served with fish and shellfish that’s already peeled. Usually this would deter me from ordering this dish because I love to eat fish and shellfish with their peel, but since it was the house specialty, I had to order it.
It was just as good as any paella we’ve had in Valencia. It was perfectly cooked, with enough fish and shellfish,and it had the crunchy bottom. What made the experience great though is that we were right on the beach with the summer breeze hitting us, as we ate our paella and drank our sangria,while Bailey explored and even made some friends.
Now, back home in NYC, whenever we want to go back to Valencia to relive and dream about it, we go eat paella. The best place for paella in my neighborhood is Socorrat on Mulberry St. We invited our friend Mikey along with us to reminisce about our trip to Valencia in 2011.
We ordered the paella carne (with meat) today because for the tapas, we chose some seafood – gambas al ajillo (shrimp with garlic oil) and calamares a la plancha (grilled whole squid), which both reminded us of Valencia as well. The paella was incredibly good, if I dare say; just as good as the ones from Valencia. On our first bite, we were immediately transported to our time at the beach, at the science center, and, of course, our favorite – the aquarium.
Today, at 3pm EST, Spain will play against Chile. I’ll be watching out for Raúl Albiol Tortajada, who is from Vilamarxant, a Valencian community, and wonder – how many dishes of paella he’s eaten in his life? We’ll be watching this World Cup because one can’t love travel and food without also loving a world event like the World Cup, will you? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear your experiences. Let’s travel the world, one dish at a time!