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A Food-Filled Tour Through Valencia, Spain

Monday, September 12, 2022

By Cristina Slattery

Last year, the organizers of Valencia’s Mediterranea Gastronoma event, a conference that focused on food from Spain’s Mediterranean coast, graciously extended an invitation to me and I looked forward to exploring the region again. It was my second trip to Valencia—the historic, sun-drenched city along Spain’s Mediterranean coast, three hours south of Barcelona. I’d lived and worked in Barcelona for five years and was thrilled to be returning.

Valencia’s architecture spans several centuries. The Church of San Nicolas, covered with baroque frescoes, and the Lonja de Seda, or Silk Exchange, are two buildings within walking distance of the Central Market and both deserve attention. (The Lonja de Seda is one of the best-preserved buildings in Spain and an important example of Gothic architecture.)

The City of Arts and Sciences, a modernist marvel designed by Santiago Calatrava and Felix Candela, houses a planetarium, a science museum, and an oceanographic park. St. Mary’s Cathedral, founded ca. 1260, is also not to be missed. Some believe that it houses the Holy Grail, a chalice that Jesus drank from during the Last Supper.

Despite all of these lovely cultural attractions, I was here for a deep dive into the cuisine of the city. In a region known for many different varieties of rice, local chefs put their own unique spin on Spain’s national dish, paella. (Paella is the word for “frying pan” in the Valencian language, a Romance language not unlike Catalan.) However, paella is not all that Valencian cuisine has to offer. There is no shortage of top-tier restaurants with tasting menus that showcase the artistry and innovations of local chefs.

The neighborhood of Ruzafa is where two such restaurants are located. A stone’s throw from the historic center of the city, Ruzafa has been rehabilitated in recent years. Michelin-starred restaurants, Fierro, and La Salita, both call this neighborhood home.

One can start with a drink outside, with the charming string lights illuminating a spacious patio, and later ascend the stairs to one of several dining rooms housed in the eighteenth-century building.

Fierro’s romantic interior was filled with young and lively sophisticates on the Saturday night I dined there. A special red prawn from Denia, a town south of Valencia, valued for its mixture of iodine, salt, and lean white meat, was featured prominently. Fierro’s menu also included a special non-alcoholic honey wine “Hidromiel de Alta Montana Dulce” from La Rioja that was a perfect accompaniment to the buttery, sweet seafood, and onion ice cream (don’t be alarmed, it’s actually quite pleasing!).

La Salita’s vibe was quite different from Fierro’s but equally enchanting. One can start with a drink outside, with the charming string lights illuminating a spacious patio, and later ascend the stairs to one of several dining rooms housed in the stately eighteenth-century building. Bouquets dried yellow flowers hung from the ceiling and the chef, Begona Rodrigo, came out to greet diners; her restaurant contains elements of her childhood (she’s from a small village just outside Valencia) that bring her joy.

Dishes included Galician hake—a white, flaky fish with a delicate texture—steamed in marine water and pil-pil sauce made from the collagen of the hake, a salad of local vegetables with two kinds of seaweed, a carpaccio of scallops in a cream sauce with toasted pine nuts, and red mullet in an “all i pebre” sauce with garlic and paprika.

Two other excellent restaurants in Valencia, with views of the Mediterranean Sea, are La Sucursal and La Maritima. The Michelin-starred La Sucursal was named the best restaurant in Spain by Gourmets magazine in 2020. La Maritima serves contemporary Spanish food and one of the best paellas in the city. Another remarkable tasting menu is found at Hospes

Palau de la Mar, a boutique hotel housed in a nineteenth-century mansion. The wine we chose at Hospes was called “L’Alegria,” (happiness)—and this effectively summed up the overall dining experience.


Cristina Slattery has written for publications such as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek Japan, Forbes Travel Guide, Harvardwood Highlights, Roads & Kingdoms, The Winter Film Awards, FoodandWine.com, Words Without Borders, AFAR.com, Travel+Leisure.com, several airline magazines, and other national and international magazines and websites. She currently lives in the New York area.