Paella is arguably Spain’s most famous dish. Prior to traveling to the Iberian peninsula, I was only familiar with the classic version that’s flavored with saffron and flourished with shellfish (paella a la marinera). Early on in our trip, my notion as to what paella entailed was turned on its head. While at Taverna El Glop in Barcelona, The Astronomer and I shared one made with rabbit and snails (paella Valenciana). I also read in our travel guide about an intriguingly black version made with squid ink. Upon arriving to Valencia, paella’s original stomping grounds, The Astronomer and I were eager to further familiarize ourselves with this one pan wonder.
We had read great things about Restaurante L’estimat and ended up eating there twice during our short stay. Located on the Paseo Maritimo, the restaurant is a few steps away from the beach and offers a postcard-worthy view.
I wouldn’t normally bore one with a historical account of paella, but this romantic painting, which hangs toward the back of the restaurant, has inspired me to do so. Or better yet, I’ll let Saveur do the talking:
The dish exists because of rice, and rice has existed in Valencia and its environs ever since the Moors planted it there more than 1,300 years ago, in a lagoon called the Albufera, where the grain is still grown today. Saffron, that precious and earthy spice, brought to Spain by Arab traders in the tenth century, was the Moors’ preferred seasoning for rice, and it remains a traditional paella ingredient. Local game like rabbit, and foraged foods like snails, as well as various legumes and vegetables, found their way into rice dishes during the Moorish occupation of Spain, but pork (which was prohibited under Muslim dietary laws) and shellfish did not. The dish was prepared in the countryside over an open fire of dried vines and orange-tree branches, usually on Sundays, usually by the men of the family while the women were at church.
Continue reading ‘Restaurante L’estimat – Valencia’
I learned all about carnecerias (meat markets), dulcerias (candy stores), and panaderias (bakery) in high school Spanish class, but my teacher never mentioned anything about orxaterias (horchata bars). As a die hard horchata lover, I was thrilled when we encountered a store specializing in the milky beverage just outside the Mercado Central de Valencia.
After spending the afternoon searching for the perfect paella pan and seeking out good deals on saffron, The Astronomer and I were eager to kick back and relax over chilled glasses of the city’s most famous beverages—orange juice and orxata. [By the way, "orxata" is the Catalan spelling of the word.] We pulled up two stools and ordered a glass of each.
Squeezed to order, the orange juice tasted perfectly balanced without any added sugars. It’s no wonder that these locally grown, thin-skinned, and nearly seedless oranges are so popular for making juice. It was so very refreshing!
Continue reading ‘L'Orxateria del Mercat Central – Valencia’
During much of our visit to Spain, the weather was unseasonably gray, cold, and rainy. Thus the moment I stepped off the train in Valencia and was greeted by golden rays, my heart filled with joy, like only a southern California gal’s could. Thankfully, the weather remained nice and mild for our entire stay, keeping me perfectly warm and sun soaked.
The Astronomer and I visited the Mercado Central (central market) on our first full day in Valencia. Built in the early twentieth century, the market was bathed in an abundance of natural light and decorated with colorful ceramics and mosaics at every turn. The domed ceiling, with its sky-high windows, was especially gorgeous.
Nearly all of the vendors were hawking some sort of raw ingredient, like meat, cheeses, spices, or produce. A small number sold traditional groceries and household items. Unlike the Boqueria in Barcelona, not a single stall sold prepared foods. The entire space was impeccably clean, meat and seafood stalls included.
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All across Spain during lunch time, restaurants offer a menu del dia (menu of the day). It’s usually a three course affair that includes a soup or salad to start, a simple protein in the middle, and something sweet at the end—all for one very reasonable price. The Astronomer and I sampled a handful of menus del dia during our trip, but we loved none as much as Casa Marta’s in Madrid. What set this place apart from all the others was the warm hospitality that we received and the value of the meal. After spending quite extravagantly on our three-star feasts, it felt nice to get a lot of bang for our euros.
Opened in 1925, Casa Marta is a family-run restaurant serving homey Spanish staples. The menu del dia was priced at €10.50 and included bread and wine, in addition to three generously portioned courses. With a little help from Marta’s grandson, the restaurant’s current owner, and The Astronomer’s pocket Spanish dictionary, we made our selections and eagerly awaited our midday meal.
A bowl of green olives was the first to arrive. We nibbled on these salty morsels as we sipped our chilled white wine.
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The Astronomer and I dined at Arzak on our final evening in San Sebastian. Of the trio of high end modern restaurants on our itinerary, I was anticipating this one the most. Juan Mari Arzak, the restaurant’s chef and owner, is regarded as one of the great masters of New Basque cuisine. I’ve been gawking at photos of his food for years, so it was extremely exciting to finally step into his den and let the magic begin.
The building where the restaurant is located has been in the Arzak family since it was built in 1897. Constructed by Juan Mari’s grandparents, the space was initially used as a wine inn and tavern. Juan Mari’s parents eventually took it over and converted it into a restaurant specializing in celebratory banquets.
In 1966, after completing his education and a stint in the military, Juan Mari returned to the kitchen where he grew up and began developing his signature cuisine alongside his mother, whom he credits as “the one that revealed all the secrets of gastronomy.” Under Juan Mari’s watch, Arzak became the first Spanish restaurant to earn three Michelin stars in 1989. Today, kitchen duties are shared between Juan Mari and his daughter Elena, and all three Michelin stars remain intact.
While the restaurant’s exterior is a bit dated, the interior is black, white, and modern all over. Each table was adorned simply with a single white iris.
Continue reading ‘Arzak – San Sebastian’