Valencia Region Food & Drink
Alejandro Garcia - Manager of the Casa Montaña Bodega, Valencia
"This Mediterranean area has a strong gastronomical heritage – we are you could say a sustainable restaurant in a sustainable region." [03:08]
The abundant fish and sea food from the waters of the Mediterranean, the rich agricultural produce of the coastal plains and the wild game of the mountain areas and the high Sierra of the region are the vital elements of the widely diverse Valencian cuisine. This, coupled with the multifold influences of the many waves of invasion and occupation over three millennia, from Phoenicians and Greeks to Romans and Arabs, has led to the creation of a complex and delicious gastronomy which is as varied as the terrain of the region of Valencia itself and which is amongst the richest of the entire Mediterranean.
Each province, and practically every town and village has its own speciality, from the tasty embutidos or charcuterie of the high country, to the paellas and other rice dishes of the areas close to the coast.
The Arab heritage, following 5 centuries of occupation of the region of Valencia by Moors from North Africa, has perhaps one of the most enduring influences on the region’s gastronomy. Rice cultivation was introduced for the first time and today it is the mainstay of the cuisine of the coastal regions.
The famous Valencian paella, probably prepared here for the first time over a thousand years ago has its origins as a peasant dish, the recipe determined by the seasonal availability of products. The authentic “paella valenciana” is made up of chicken, rabbit and vegetables, though among a myriad of other rice recipes around the region are available.
Valencianos usually say that there is a different rice recipe for every day of the year. In the Alicante province, the fideuá
, a form of noodle, rather than rice is used and is so popular that towns along the coast hold competitions to see who can produce the most flavoursome dish.
Further inland, in the foothills and the mountains, the olla – or stew - is one of the most common forms of preparing food. Cooked slowly in a large ceramic pot the rich stews, which can include beef, pork, lamb or game make a sustaining meal served especially in the cooler days of winter.
Salted cod, or Bacalao, the staple of so many inland areas where, until the days of refrigeration, fresh fish was unknown, is also a popular ingredient, the flesh soaked well to remove the salt and then added in flakes to add its own distinctive flavour.
, or sausages produced in the mountain areas have a particular fame throughout the region. Flavoured with wild herbs, from fennel to rosemary and thyme their unique flavours ensure they are much in demand at simple bars and cafes to the top class restaurants.
The almonds of the region are rated amongst the best in the world, and are used in the preparation of delicious desserts, many of which have their origins in the Arab era. Bakeries specialise in preparing cakes, tarts, biscuits and confectionery, many of which are prepared only at certain times of the year.
Alicante in particular is famous for the quality of its desserts, which range from sweet pastissets – sugared biscuits which are thought to have been introduced by settlers from Majorca following the expulsion of the Arabs in the 16th century, to turron, a nougat of almonds and honey, a succulent treat usually served at Christmas.
Dates from palms first introduced during the Arab era are also a popular ingredient in many of the sweet dishes produced in the region.
The palm groves of Elche laid out in the 10th century are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the oasis and its irrigation systems being a classic example of cultural transfer which in turn influenced the gastronomy of the region.
Vines have been cultivated in the region since Neolithic times, and the cultivation of the grapes and the process of wine production refined over the centuries by new waves of settlers in the region. Today some of the best wines of the Iberian peninsula are produced in the region.
There are three Denominations of Origin (D.O.) in the region of Valencia: Alicante, Utiel-Requena and Valencia. The D.O. of Alicante is famous for its sweet muscatel dessert wines and in particular, a white wine with a high alcohol content called Fondillón
In the D.O. Utiel-Requena, the red bobal grape, the juice of which has been for many years much in demand by France winemakers is today, along with tempranillo, cabernet-sauvignon and merlot producing solid reds and roses.
A sparkling wine made in Requena recently was voted the best amongst its class in an international competition, the wine maker in question attributing his success to the fact that the grapes are gathered at night in cooler temperatures to ensure optimal condition of the berries.
Caroline Pateman - Wine maker in Jalon
"wines of this area are good because they try to keep the essence and the body of the original war of making the wines." [02:57]
And there is one other specialist beverage of the region which is popular throughout the Iberian peninsula.
Horchata is the delicious sweet creamy drink made from chufas, the tubers of a type of sedge grown more or less exclusively in the Valencia Region.
It too was introduced during the Arab era and the non-alcoholic drink is now much sought after throughout Spain during spring and summer.
With so much excellent produce available it is not unusual to find that many chefs in the region of Valencia source their ingredients at the farm gate or in the fishing ports, building a relationship with their own suppliers and so ensuring they can obtain the best quality ingredients. From top restaurants to village bars and cafes, from butchers shops to bakeries and bodegas, the attention paid to the preparation and presentation of food and drink in each of the three provinces is a reflection of the pride the people of the region attach to their rich gastronomic and cultural heritage.
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