Cuisine of Eastern Spain

Traditional Recipes beyond the Rice.

By Real Academia de Gastronomía

Real Academia de Gastronomía

Valencian PaellaReal Academia de Gastronomía

The Spanish region of Valencia produces rice of exceptional quality, and a world-famous dish: paella. However, its produce and traditional recipes are much more varied, and include its renowned citrus fruits, stews, "horchata" (tiger nut milk), and "turrón" (nougat).

Rice fields in the AlbuferaReal Academia de Gastronomía

Eastern Spanish Cuisine: Rice, Vegetable Gardens, and Sea

Like all regional cuisine, Valencian cooking is based on the raw ingredients that locals have traditionally had to hand. Fruit and vegetable gardens are a distinctive feature of this area, as are rice and the sea, since the Mediterranean bathes its entire coastline.

Valencian paella ingredientsReal Academia de Gastronomía

The white cereal known as rice was introduced by the Arabs in the 8th century, and is the region's star product. It grows recognized varieties—such as Senia (which includes Senia, Bahia, Gleva, J. Sendra, and Montsianell), Bomba, and Albufera—that are protected by the "Valencian Rice" Designation of Origin.

Navel orangesReal Academia de Gastronomía

Vegetables also play an important role, since the region's vegetable gardens are some of the most highly prized in Spain. That is not to mention its fruits, especially citrus fruits, which also carry stamps certifying their quality. Valencian oranges and lemons, medlars from Callosa d'en Sarrià, Spanish persimons from Ribera del Xúquer, and Benicarló artichokes are just some of the region's products that have a Protected Designation of Origin.

"Suquet" (seafood stew)Real Academia de Gastronomía

As for meat, game has a special importance in the Valencian cookbook, while there are plenty of fish that are characteristic of the region's seas: palaya (a local flatfish), conger eels, hake, monkfish, and "aladroc" (anchovies). These are prepared in a variety of ways, such as fried, in "suquets" (seafood stews), or with orange sauce.

MojamaReal Academia de Gastronomía

Different varieties of fish, such as sardines, "mojama" (air-dried tuna), as well as tuna trunk and belly, can also be found preserved in salt ("salazón," as it is called in Spanish). Shrimp from Dénia, sea urchins from the coast of Alicante, and langoustine from Vinaròs are other seafood products that are especially valued for their quality.

Valencian paella ingredientsReal Academia de Gastronomía

Paella: A Global Icon

Authentic Valencian paella, which is so widely exported and popular, is a rice dish prepared with the best ingredients from the Albufera area, near the city of Valencia (known as the "capital of the Turia river"). It typically includes lima beans, green beans, paprika, tomato, saffron, chicken, rabbit, and even snails.

Paella International ContestReal Academia de Gastronomía

Based on that, each region has its own "paella," resulting in dozens of versions of the rice-based dish, which are largely determined by the kind of pan in which they are cooked.

If it is made in a pot or pan, it will be smoother; those cooked in the oven will be drier; and those made in a paella pan (the utensil that gives the famous dish its name) will be round and shallow. Rice "con costra" (with an egg crust), "a banda" (with fish), "perdiú" (with a head of garlic), "rossejat" (browned), and "senyoret" (with everything peeled or shelled) are just some of the rice recipes that Eastern Spain offers.

Tapa de all i pebre (garlic and eels)Real Academia de Gastronomía

"Ollas": the Stews of Eastern Spain

"Ollas" are a great icon of regional Valencian soups and stews, prepared with vegetables and meats all along the coast, and particularly in inland areas. Some of the most traditional examples are the "olla de recapte" (with meat and vegetables) and the "olla de la plana" (with seasonal vegetables) from Castellón; the "olletas de embutido" or sausage stews from Valencia; and the "ollica de Alacant" (which substitutes rice for lentils), "cardet" (with thistles), "giraboix" (cod, green beans, and potatoes), and "cocido de pava" (with turkey) from Alicante.

"Turrón" (nougat)Real Academia de Gastronomía

"Turrón" and Other Sweets

"Turrón," or nougat, is the crème de la crème of sweets in the region of Valencia, and enjoys worldwide fame. Nougats from Xixona and Alicante, which are made exclusively with almonds (in the first case, ground, and in the second, whole) are protected under their own Protected Designation of Origin.

Magdalena de turrón (nougat cake)Real Academia de Gastronomía

And, despite being highly purist, nougat production in the area has been enriched by other ingredients, such as chocolate, leading to an endless variety of nougats.

Breakfast in CataluñaReal Academia de Gastronomía

"Arnadí," a cake made with pumpkin and sweet potato, is typical of "Semana Santa," or Holy Week, and is another of the region's most characteristic sweets.

Other examples are "orelletes" (sweet pastries) and "horchata," a milk made from Valencian tiger nuts. The drink, which is also certified for its quality, is enjoyed with "fartons," the light and fluffy buns typical of the town of Alboraya.

Chocolates made with extra virgin olive oilReal Academia de Gastronomía

Paco Torreblanca: Master of Desserts

You can't talk about desserts in the region of Valencia without mentioning Paco Torreblanca, one of the best pastry chefs in the world.

White chocolate mousse, apricot and almondReal Academia de Gastronomía

After many years of experience in France, this chef from Villena (Alicante) revolutionized desserts on his return to his native region.

From there, he has positioned himself as one of the great pioneers in tantalizing creative cuisine, reaping numerous awards both nationally and internationally. So, it comes as no surprise that he was chosen to design the wedding cake for the royal wedding between Felipe and Letizia, the current King and Queen of Spain.

Slice of Dried TomatoOriginal Source: Restaurante Quique Dacosta

Signature Cuisine in the Region of Valencia

The great chefs of this region have reinvented its more traditional recipes, giving a new creative edge to food that is part of the region's DNA, which of course includes its rice dishes.

Quique DacostaOriginal Source: Restaurante Quique Dacosta

Quique Dacosta is a well-known local chef who was born in Extremadura but chose to move east. He has crossed borders while remaining faithful to his territory, capturing the landscapes that surround him in his creations and revolutionizing rice by using it in other forms. An example is his "arroz socarrat" or scorched rice. Served in a paella pan, it is turned over onto the plate in front of the diner, who is then invited to eat it with their hands.

Ricard CamarenaReal Academia de Gastronomía

Valencian chef Ricard Camarena has made various rice dishes throughout his culinary career, including one with "vaca vieja" (older cow), and a creamy rice with squid and kale. Kiko Moya, on the other hand, serves his "arroz al cuadrado" (square rice) in individual iron and wood trays.

Then there is Susi Díaz's crusty rice soufflé, and Begoña Rodrigo's rice with marine plankton—other creative reinventions that some of the most renowned local chefs have used to create a forward-looking signature cuisine, without losing sight of tradition.

Rice Fields in CalasparraReal Academia de Gastronomía

Regional Cuisine of Murcia

Located between the communities of Valencia and Andalusia is Murcia, a region that soaks up the influences of its neighbors but also has its own fresh Mediterranean cuisine.

There's no shortage of rice in the pantries here (the region's Calasparra rice has a Protected Designation of Origin), nor of vegetables, provided by the excellent market gardens. In fact, one of the most popular dishes here, "arroz con verduras" (rice with vegetables), combines the 2 ingredients.

Salt-Baked Sea BreamReal Academia de Gastronomía

But this is not the only "arroz" dish made in Murcia: they can also be made with lean meat and ribs, or with rabbit and snails. The famous "arroz caldero" is made in a cauldron-style pan and is the region's best seafood dish. Murcia's coastal location provides fish such as mullet, sea bream, and sea bass that are usually served baked in salt or split lengthways and grilled.

Lamb Chops with Garlic SauceReal Academia de Gastronomía

The region's version of stew is called "olla gitana" (gypsy pot) and is made with legumes and vegetables. This dish forms part of its collection of popular recipes, together with others like "michirones" (beans with chorizo), "zarangollo" (scrambled egg with zucchini and onion), "pastel de cierva" (pie with a sweet pastry crust and a savory chicken filling), "caldo con pelotas" (turkey stew with meatballs), and lamb cutlets with "ajo cabañil" (a dressing also used in other dishes, such as potatoes, made with garlic, vinegar, and bay leaves).

Credits: Story

Text: Silvia Artaza, in collaboration with Cuchita Lluch (member of the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy), and Rodrigo A. Borrega (president of the Academy of Gastronomy of the region of Murcia).

Image: Foods & Wines from Spain / Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade / David de Luis / Ricard Camarena / Quique Da Costa Restaurant.

Acknowledgements: Rafael Ansón, president of the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy; Elena Rodríguez, director of the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy; María García and Caroline Verhille, contributors to the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy.

Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy

This exhibition is part of the Spanish Gastronomy project jointly coordinated by Google Arts & Culture and the Spanish Royal Academy of Gastronomy.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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