A couple of years ago I spent a few weeks living in Valencia with my friend and co-worker Cyra. When the two of us travel together, life revolves around food-- we're obsessed with everything local, authentic, high-quality and (most importantly) delicious! We were in search of the top 12 must try foods in Valencia. Read on for what we discovered, bite by bite!
It had been years since I'd spent time in Valencia-- which is odd since Madrid is so closely connected by the AVE high-speed train. But I wasted no time in getting reacquainted with this foodie paradise. Valencia's most famous dish is, of course, paella (and it's worth visiting just for that) but it's also home to other delicious local Valencian foods to try.
Eating our Way Through Valencia
Valencia is Spain's third largest city and has a food scene to envy. From the freshest catch of the day straight from the Mediterranean to a long history of sweets and snacks. Did I mention it's also the birthplace of paella?
See also: Complete guide to where to stay in Valencia
12 Must Try Foods in Valencia
If you go to Valencia, here’s what you cannot miss!
1. Paella Valenciana
Controversy about the word paella is common throughout Spain-- my Spanish mother-in-law uses the word to refer to just about any rice dish, while others use it exclusively to talk about the local Valencian version. Whatever the proper use, Valencia is truly one of the best places in Spain to enjoy rice, and by far makes the best paella Valenciana.
But what is paella Valenciana? Is it that seafood and chorizo rice you see chefs making on TV?
Not even close! Authentic paella from Valencia was a dish cooked inland, where the rice paddies are located. The pan (called a paella) was set over an outdoor fire of orange tree branches. Inside went snails, rabbits, and sometimes chicken, and huge local beans called garrafó.
Today you can still find authentic Valencian paella all around town-- although the seafood versions aren't half bad either! Whichever you choose, go hungry. The minimum order is usually for two people, and the more the merrier!
Read more: The Truth About Spanish Paella
2. Horchata y fartons
Tiger nut milk-- probably one of the most bizarre translations you'll find on a Spanish menu! But it's correct. Tiger nuts are small tubers (part of the potato family) called chufas in Spanish or xufas in Valencian. They're used to make delicious non-dairy milk, the same way people use almonds these days to make almond milk. The result is nutty and slightly chalky in texture and generally served ice cold and sweetened. It's something most people either love or hate-- I happen to love it. It's one of the most refreshing things to have on a hot Valencian day.
Locals drink their horchata with freshly baked fartons, a traditional pastry dusted with powdered sugar. The best place to try horchata and fartons in Valencia is the beautiful horchatería Santa Catalina in the old town.
3. Flan de Calabaza
You won't find this delicious dessert everywhere, but when you do-- order it. Valencians love pumpkin (calabaza) in both sweet and savory dishes and it makes perfect sense to use in a light and velvety flan. Our favorite of the trip was at Casa Carmela, which is one of Valencia's most famous and delicious rice restaurants.
4. Morcilla and Egg Sandwich at Bar Central
In Valencia, the second breakfast (called almuerzo in Valencia) is taken very seriously. Around 10 am people crowd into breakfast bars for a filling and hearty snack-- enough to tide them over until a 2 pm lunch. Cyra and I enjoyed almuerzos all around town, but one of the best things I tasted was a delicious blood sausage (morcilla), scrambled egg, and pickled onion sandwich at Bar Central in the Valencia Central Market. This popular breakfast and tapas bar is run by the famous chef, Richard Camarena. Everything we tasted here was great, but this sandwich has stuck in my mind as a highlight!
Is wine a food? Let's say so-- because it is definitely a must try in Valencia! Local wines from Valencia and surrounding areas are phemonenal, and even better value for money than the rest of Spain (hard to believe!). Valencia itself is a DO (a Spanish Denominación de Orígen) and within the Valencian Community you'll also find DO Alicante, DO Utiel-Requena, and the multi-regional DO Cava. Some interesting local grapes to look out for are Merseguera (white wines), Bobal (red wines) and Monastrell (red wines).
The local seafood in Valencia is incredible (just visit the central market to see how fresh it is!) and the small mussels called clochinas in Valencian are some of the best I've had. For a truly local experience head to La Pilareta, a dive bar in the old town that is well loved by locals. Squeeze up to the bar and order a plate (or two) of mussels and a cold beer-- perfect!
7. Orange Ice Cream
Valencia is filled with ice cream shops, and many of them are great, thanks in part to a large Italian population, and of course super fresh fruits and ingredients from the surrounding farmland. The competition is fierce, which means there are lots of great places worth stopping, but my favorite is called Véneta, where the proud owner has won awards for his delicious creations. I recommend trying the Valencian orange with mint-- the perfect way to get your vitamin C in Valencia!
8. Buñuelos de calabaza
While these delicious homemade donuts are typical of Valencia's greatest festival (Las Fallas in March), they can be found at some pastry shops and food carts year round. If you see them don't hesitate to order a portion, served with hot chocolate or dusted with sugar.
Esgarret is something you may see on menus at traditional Valencian restaurants. It's a dish that consists of roasted red peppers, salt cod, garlic, olive oil, and black olives. It's similar to dishes found in Catalonia and Malaga that feature salt cod too.
Most people coming to Spain know about paella (though they often have no idea it's from Valencia!). But one thing that is off the radar for many is paella's delicious cousin, fideua. Fideua is a dish made with pasta instead of rice. The most traditional feature short and thin buckwheat noodles (fideos) though others feature more standard noodles. Traditionally, fideua is made with a delicious homemade seafood and fish stock and features seafood such as hake, shrimp, squid and a variety of optional shellfish.
11. Arròs a banda
Arroz a banda (or arròs a banda in Valencian) is another typical rice dish of the region. You'll see this on most rice restaurant menus and might be wondering what the difference is. This was another typical fisherman's dish, made in a particular way. Arroz a banda literally means "rice served apart" and that's because the recipe starts with a fish stew (using a local bony fish with lots of flavor, potatoes, ñora pepper, and garlic). Once the stew is made the fisherman would eat the fish and potatoes, and then use the broth to make rice "apart/on the side".
No visit to Valencia is complete without trying the incredible local turrón. The most famous types of turrón from the region are the turrón de Jijona and the turrón de Alicante. The Alicante style is a hard turrón, made with whole almonds and egg whites, sugar and honey. The Jijona variety is almost like a sweet almost paste or butter. I love both of them and recommend trying these and others during your visit!
These are only a handful of my favorite foods to try in Valencia, but they are among the most traditional. Valencia is a beautiful and delicious place to visit, and only a short train ride from Madrid. It is truly "the best paella in Madrid!". I'd recommend visiting Valencia from Madrid as a day trip or, better yet, a quick overnight visit. Beach, paella, horchata... what more could you ask for?
Read more: 48 hours in Valencia
What do you think? Have you visited Valencia? Any must try foods in Valencia you think I’ve missed?