A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Aug. 28.

Valencia, Part One - Neither Vince nor I cared too much for Valencia. It wasn't a bad city per se, but it couldn't compete with the heights of the previous three. To me, it felt most like a mini-Madrid, without the capital's grandeur. And speaking of Madrid, the comparison was all the more apparent, because we had to stop there and transfer trains, which added up to a very long day. During our layover in Madrid, we found a bar near the station, with the usual cast of characters: an old man smoking at the counter and meditatively sipping a glass of wine, an old woman obsessively feeding the slot machine, a few younger people grabbing a quick bite to eat. In that setting, I decided to try the calamari sandwich after seeing it on so many menus. The bread here was below average but the seafood made up for it. It was warm, fried and fresh, with six large rings for a reasonable 3.20. It filled me up until our eventual arrival in Valencia at eight, when we just went to the closest supemarket we could find. With the deli counter closed, we improvised with Emmental dip, ham, plum tomatoes, plums and a package of whole wheat toast. It was good enough for the night.

The next morning, we immediately headed to the Mercado Central, yet another massive market. This one was the largest yet with the capacity to hold a thousand stalls. The meat and cheese were by and large more expensive here, but the bread was more varied. We bought a triangle of very good Brie and, in an effort to add sole variety, Vince suggested we try the sobresada. Once the woman at the charcuterie cut it for us, we realized the bright orange meat looked raw. I asked if it could be eaten as is, and she said it was like a patè; It just needed to be spread on bread. So I got a baguettina and applied the cheese and sobresada across it. It tasted like mushy pepperoni, interesting for sure but probably not something I'd get again. I also went back and bought some sweet Valencia oranges, figuring this would be the place to do it.

For dinner, we left the city center, where we were staying and walked an hour east to the coast. We'd heard that the best paella in Valencia, which is supposed to have the best paella in Spain, could be found in an area called Las Arenas. It was right on the beach, and after some searching, we found a strip of restaurants all dishing out that famous pot of yellow rice. Compâring the prices and the popularity of the places, we settled on one called La Baraka. There we could get paella de mariscos, or seafood paella, for 8.70€ each. It took a half hour to prepare, but when it arrived steaming, the smell intoxicated me.

While I doubt we'd stumbled upon the best paella in the city, it was the best I've had. Oilier than its New York counterparts, it contained much firmer rice that gave it a crunchier texture. The seafood was also fresher, with the mussels being particularly great. I was surprised though that the portion, while certainly fairly-sized, wasn't more intimidating. So much of the food we'd encountered otherwise was so spoilingly affordable.


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