Gastronomy is of great cultural importance to the Valencians. Rice is the dominant ingredient in dishes of the region, grown locally in paddy fields still irrigated by the Moorish canal system (acequias). Gourmets tend to agree that the best paellas are to be found around (but not in) Valencia, the city where the dish originated. The genuine version doesn’t mix fish and meat – it typically contains chicken, rabbit, green beans, garrofón (large butter beans), snails, artichokes and saffron – and should be prepared fresh and cooked over wood (leña), not scooped from some vast, sticky vat; most places will make it for a minimum of two people, with advance notice.
Other rice-based dishes vary around the region: arroz negro is rice cooked with squid complete with ink, which gives the dish its colour, and served with all i oli, a powerful garlic mayonnaise. Arroz al horno is drier, baked with chickpeas. Fideuà is seafood and noodles cooked paella-style. The most famous, arroz a banda, is found on the south coast around Denia – it’s rice cooked with seafood, served as two separate dishes: soup, then rice. Around Alicante, you can try arroz con costra, which is a meat-based paella topped with a baked egg crust. Apart from rice, vegetables (best a la plancha, brushed with olive oil and garlic) are always fresh and plentiful.
The sweet-toothed should try turrón, a nuts-and-honey nougat, which you could follow with a horchata (or orxata), a rich drink made from tiger nuts (chufas) or almonds (almendras).