Michele Buster, who sources artisanal products for ForeverCheese.com, shares her favorite food spots in Valencia, Spain.
Paella 101: “The base of Spain’s quintessential dish is always sofrito—tomato, garlic, and onion. Other than that, ingredients vary, because people personalize it. The most traditional in Valencia, Spain, has chicken, rabbit, and a white bean called garrafón, but you’ll also find mussels, snails, even lobster. Only have paella at lunch; it’s too heavy to eat at night.”
Where Locals Eat: “For the most authentic paella, I go to Casa Roberto (19 Maestro Gozalbo; 34/96-395-1361; lunch for two $50), filled with Valencianos. Call ahead to order and make sure to ask for yours with socarrat, the crispy, burnt rice on the bottom of the pan. It’s not real paella unless you have that. It’s fun to put the pan in the middle of the table and dig in.”
Signature Drink: “Agua de Valencia is served in pitchers like sangria—it’s super convivial. Don’t bother asking Café de la Seu (7 Calle Santo Cáliz; 34/96-391-5715; drinks for two $12) for their recipe (they won’t give it out), but the basic ingredients are cava, orange juice, vodka, gin, and sugar. Head over on a Sunday afternoon with a group of friends.”
Must-Buy Souvenirs: “Saladitos, or ‘salty things,’ are extra-virgin-olive-oil crackers that are shaped like tongue depressors. You can find them in any corner store. Other popular snacks are hand-pressed fig cakes, which used to be around only during the holidays, and old-fashioned Marcona almond nougat. The kind by Túrron de Jijona melts in your mouth.”
Best Market: “Built in 1928, Mercado Central de Valencia (Avda. Barón de Cárcer; 34/96-382-9100) is light and airy; its tiles and stained glass were just restored. Check out Charcutería Solaz for jamón ibérico and other cured meats. And at Manglano, you can find autor, a regional cheese made with raw goat’s milk that gets its shape from a pasta colander.”
Don’t-Miss Street Food: “The most well-known type of empanadas in Spain have tuna, peppers, and tomato—but I’m addicted to the ones in Valencia, Spain, made with spinach or kale. It’s fun to try a few at the market, and the mom-and-pop Pastelería Horno García (6 Avda. del Regne de Valencia; 34/96-373-8128), in the Gran Vía neighborhood, is also one of my go-tos.”