Spain – Tapas and Pinchos in Valencia with Suzie
While in Valencia we went on a tapas tour with Suzie of Tours in Valencia. Suzie ranks #1 on trip Advisor for Valencia tapas tours and for good reasons. She is personable and fun and although much younger than my husband and I, she fitted right in and we had a great evening stopping for tapas at a few places, talking about food, culture, history, cooking and life in general. We went on a private tour because it is low season and things are slower in the tourism industry, but she often takes groups of 8-10 people in high season. Suzie is a certified city guide in Valencia. She is of Spanish and Dutch heritage and conducts tours in several languages. She does bicycle tours, history tours and group tours where she is responsible for the entire travel needs of a group. Suzie also offers private tours and would tailor a tour to your specific needs. In our case we focused more on vegetarian dishes than on seafood and meat, as this is my interest. The tour was very reasonably priced and all of the food and drinks were included. We had at least 2 generous portions of tapas per stop, sometimes more, and a drink at each bar as well. It was definitely good value. I also loved that Suzie is a foodie, loves to cook and knows a lot about Spanish cuisine.
We met Suzie at 8:00 pm in front of the cathedral at Plaza de la Reina, the central square of Valencia. Suzie arranged to go to three tapas bars, all located in the beautiful old town in the center of the city. These are bars of insiders, not necessarily the ones tourists would find on their own. We did it all by foot of course as things are pretty close together over there.
First stop was at Huerta Santa Catalina close to Plaza de la Reina around the corner from the Cathedral. At the bar they serve pinchos, which I described in a previous post The Art of Tapas. Pincho refers to bite size foods held with a wooden pick or “spike” (pincho), such as a slice of bread with a tall mound of various toppings secured by a wooden pick. Pinchos are served in many tapas bars now. You pick your selection of pinchos (it’s always self serve), enjoy them with wine or beer, then leave the wooden picks on your plate so the waiter can count them and figure out the price of what you have had. The type of picks (there are more than one) indicates the price of the pincho. Pinchos at our tapas bar were displayed on black slate tiles on the counter. Suzie says that pinchos are part of the culture in northern Spain (Basque) and have become more popular in Valencia and other regions. We selected two types of pinchos each (they are large) and had a drink to go with them. I had a sangria and my husband chose Valencian red wine.
Here is a sample of the type of pinchos they had on display:
- Potato ball with minced meat
- Fresh cheese with cod fish
- Potato with bacon, pimiento de padron (Russian roulette)
- Sobrasada (meat from Majorca), onion, zucchini and bacon
- Fried cheese
- Anchovies with cheese
- Crab salad
- Chicken nuggets
- Cream cheese with fruit jelly, nuts nd raisins
- Red pepper filled with tuna with egg on top
- Croquettes with chicken
- Salmon with zucchini.
Suzie says that in the south of Spain tapas are served free with the drinks, especially in places like Granada. In fact you can even choose your free tapas from a tapas menu, one per drink order. Suzie explained that bread with various topping is also known as Montaditos, essentially toppings “mounted” on toasted bread. Conversation shifted to paella of which Suzie seems to know a lot even though she says she never makes it. Apparently paella was a man’s job and they prepared it for the women (para ella, or “for her”) hence the name paella, which is a shortened version of that. Suzie says that traditional paella is cooked over fire made with branches of orange trees, which makes sense considering Valencia is where paella was born and is also home to Valencia orange trees. We talked about socarrat (the crispy bottom of a paella, desired by paella aficionados) about Dominacione Origen (DO) paella and the ingredients it can and cannot contain. Suzie also told us about restaurants in the city and the custom of eating out and keeping the homes for family and close friends. She recommended the restaurant Marisquerias Sivera for good seafood paella and good seafood, period. One of her favourite places to dine is La Salita, where the female chef Begonia Rodrigo recently won a top chef competition on a spanish TV. See? conversation flowed and there was not a dull moment.
Coming out of the tapas bar we walked into Horchateria el Siglo serving a specialty drink of Valencia, the horchata. The milky drink is made with chufa (aka tiger nuts), water and sugar and is a little labour intensive to produce. Thankfully there are a few horchaterias doing this work for you and serving the refreshing, sweet milky drink at their establishment. This particular Horchateria has been in continuous business since 1836 and is known as one of the best places to have the drink. We went back there the next day and sat at one of their tables right behind the square with a tall glass of horchata. It was delicious.
From there we walked over to Tasca el Botijo, a small neighbourhood bar that serves tapas from 10:00 am until 2:00 pm, if the patrons leave at that time. Everyone seemed to know each other there and it was fun to observe the scene. To start we tried their hummus for a vegetarian option and my husband had sobrasada with honey (a dish from Majorca). For the main tasting (told ya, lots of food) they brought a beautiful dish of mushrooms sautéed with olive oil, garlic and parsley to share. Suzie says that in Spain you are always allowed to dip bread in the juices on the plate, even when sharing the dish. You wouldn’t want to leave any of this delicious juices behind, believe me. We cleaned out the plate with the bread. We also had zucchini with eggs and goat cheese served warm. We had a lot of food in generous portions and because of my vegetarian preference we kept menu items to vegetables as much as possible. I am sure you can get a seafood and meat focused menu with Suzie if you join her tour. I looked at their menu and there were any tempting dishes I would try if I make it back there on this trip. The potatoes with blue cheese and caramelized onions was one, as well as the baked goat cheese with honey.
After the tapas at Tasca el Botijo Suzie had a surprise for us: sweet white wine served in a porron, a small glass jug with a long narrow, tapering spout, much like a watering can. Traditionally they serve Valencian white dessert wines made from mistella or moscatel in the porron and you drink it by aiming the spout to you mouth and pouring the drink in while raising your hand up in an artful display of your expertise. Suzie did pretty good, I tried it but of course, well, you know. It was fun and interesting, I have never seen this in action before.
Conversation was about food and particularly Spanish food. Suzie, who is a foodie and loves to cook, described a dish she made recently, a pincho of gazpacho that she served to friends. I mentioned earlier that in Spain they do not have the culture of entertaining at home and Suzie says that this is beginning to change with the younger generation who may invite friends over for some food. For a recent gathering she made this “pincho de gazpacho”. She served a small glass (like a shot glass) with a little bit of olive oil along with a skewer with cherry tomato, pickled garlic and pickled pearl onion. The idea was to eat the vegetables off the skewer and gulp the olive oil in one sip. I have to try it at home. I will call it Suzie’s gazpacho pincho, all rights reserved to Suzie. It’s a deconstructed gazpacho, to borrow a food term from Ferran Adria. I mentioned that I had a beautiful gazpacho the other day that seemed creamy and asked her about it. She said it must have been Salmojero, a creamy, dense gazpacho made with tomatoes and thickened with bread. She makes her own gazpacho regularly and includes, as the mood swings, tomatoes, onion, garlic, green pepper, olive oil, vinegar, cucumber etc. She mixes it in a blender and serves it as it is, unstrained and full of good nutrition. I love talking food.
The third and last tapas bar was very interesting. It was Restaurante las Cuevas at Plaza Cisneros 2, Valencia, 46003 (no website). The name of the restaurants means the caves and it does have a feel and look of a cave with arched passageways leading you to the interior. Suzie loves this restaurant and this is where she takes her Mother when she visits Valencia. It’s a family-run operation and the family was there to greet us when we arrived and tolerated my picture taking. Couldn’t help it, the food on display was just too beautiful. Here we had my favourite tapas: fried artichokes. If it’s on the menu, I order it. A generous plate of just fried chokes was delivered and consumed with pleasure along with my other favourite tapas: patatas bravas, fried potatoes served with a spicy tomato sauce and a homemade mayo. I must go back there for tapas soon.
Oh, the evening had to end. We walked back to the Plaza de la Reina where we started our tour. Suzie had her lovely decorated bicycle tied to a post there and was going to ride her bike back home. We took a couple of pictures and said our goodbyes. I think she may come to Canada sometime and I look forward to showing her the food and wines of the Okanagan.
Saludos suzie, nos vemos.