I’ve spent a lot of time in Valencia on my own and with different groups on tour. When someone asks me where to eat a great paella only one word comes to my mind, “VALENCIA”. Years ago I found this little place in the historical center that served an excellent Valencian Paella. Prepared with bomba round grain rice, rabbit, garrofó (fat white beans), artichokes, green beans, saffron and a couple sprigs of rosemary on top this is true paella and always will be for me. You may also find it as traditionally prepared with snails. Since the paella (from the latin word for pan, patella) is just the pan it is prepared in, the ingredients can vary greatly. The most common one internationally is the seafood paella. However, you can find rice prepared with all different ingredients. And many times we just refer to this dish as rice with…….seafood, fish, squid and ink, lobster, chicken and sausage. Sometimes it can be prepared dry and sometimes creamy or with a broth. The varieties are endless and change greatly depending on where you are in the country. One of my favorites is “arros de muntanya” in Catalunya with chicken, rabbit, butifarra sausage, pork ribs, and wild mushrooms.
Traditionally, rice is prepared out in the country over an open fire. The best paella should have “socarrat” or a carmelized crust of rice that sticks to the bottom of the pan that you scrape off and enjoy with your wooden spoon. Each person eats their own portion starting from the part closest to them and going towards the center of the pan. My photo above was from a great beach restaurant just on the coast of Barcelona. Xiringuito Escribá. Served with a cold sparkling wine sangria made with mint and berries, it made a perfect afternoon with friends.
The sound of the waves, the salt on my skin, and the smell of grilled sardines in the tropical air. This describes summer for me. Before moving to Southern Spain my only beach memories were blue lip freezing Lake Michigan and 3 for a dollar burritos in Mexico every once in a while. Since living here the beach has become a great part of my life and necessary relaxation. With our van we have traveled along many beautiful coast lines, but the closest to home is the Costa Tropical. Pebbly or rocky beaches with a deep shore that feels like a swimming pool at times. There is no gradual wading into the water here. One second your foot is on the bottom and the next you are swimming in the deep sea. Of course, most people come here for the beach, local fish, tropical fruits and sun but the Costa Tropical is also filled with history.
History here dates long before this but the Phoenicians named the largest town Sexi (now Almuñecar) in about 800 BC. In the city of Almuñecar you can visit the area where certain foods were conserved with salt and they produced garum, the fermented fish sauce that was mainly used by the Romans and Greeks. The coast line is also dotted with watchtowers (atalayas) from different times in history as well as a Roman aqueduct over the Jete Valley. In both Almuñecar and the town of Salobreña you can visit the castles that were rebuilt and used by the Nasrid Dynasty of Granada. From the 10th century the production of sugar was the most important industry along the coast and you can still visit the old sugar factories in some towns. You can trace the gastronomy in this area by following the lines of history. The fertile soil here now allows for the production of many different tropical fruits and fresh fish is the most obvious protein. However you can still find sweets dating back to Arabic and Jewish origins made with sugar, sesame, almonds and honey.
Visiting the castles and old ruins along the coast reminds of the rich history that is recorded here but the sea always calls our name so we sit down at a local “chiringuito” with our feet in the sand to enjoy a glass of local white wine and fresh fish accompanied by a tropical salad. This is the best of Spanish summer for me!
We have been hitting record temperatures here in Granada the past few weeks. Having lived many years of my life in the desert of Arizona I can usually handle the heat but every year it gets more difficult. The last couple weeks have been brutal around here and the only way to deal with this is to flee the city and head to the coast. Lucky for us it is only 40 minutes to the nearest beaches with clear and cool water perfect for soothing the burn of the summer.
Our very old yet reliable hippy van makes beach life a lot easier since we can now spend days on the beach without having to spend too much money or “pasta” as we would say here in Spain. One of life’s greatest joys is opening your eyes in the morning with a view of the sea, hearing the sound of the waves and going for the first morning swim with the fish. I love the pebbly beaches of the Tropical Coast near Granada. The water is usually like a deep swimming pool and clear enough to see your feet and the bottom of the sea. The best beaches are found by hiking down a steep path or a curvy road.
Of course beach life would not be the same without some fresh and local food. Although we do enjoy preparing our own food next to the van, a good lunch at a “chiringuito” is always a treat. At my favorite beach they have the best avocado, caper and anchovy salad. The coast of Granada is painted with avocado trees, one of the best fruits on earth.
I probably eat less rice than anyone else in this country. Personal tastes and a minor seafood allergy don’t help much with this. Lucky for me, here at my favorite chiringuito they will prepare the paella without a seafood broth so that I can actually enjoy a decent rice. The best part of an excellent paella is the “socarrat”, the rice that gets crunchy and forms a crust at the bottom of the pan. This word comes from the Spanish word “socarrar” which means to singe. No matter what type of paella you are eating, this is the part that should be most enjoyed!