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A True Taste of Valencia

In town for the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards, our editor dines her way through the briny soul of this coastal Spanish city.

WHEN I’M SLIGHTLY depressed, I think of a tomato I ate in Valencia. Fuchsia-red and snappy in texture, it had the firm, juicy flesh of a cold nectarine. It was life in a bite. I was in the coastal Spanish city for the annual 50 Best Restaurants awards, a gala commemorating the best ones in the world. Taking the week before to explore, I found an ornate, melancholy place that was also palpably salty — oceanic flavors ever-present in cured fish, briny vermouths, seaside air, and my stinging tears — triggered with bizarre ease in Valencia. Given the right song and a particularly nostalgic plaza … glassy eyed again! I wove in and out of the city’s Baroque cathedrals dripping in sweat (saltily on theme). The naves were always dark and cool, with the sweet, musty scent of a basement. My eyes took a second to adjust, pupils dilating back into focus before supersized, gilded portraits of saints or Christ, endlessly dying for our sins.

To reach the beach from the little apartment I rented on a narrow street in the El Carmen neighborhood, I passed through El Cabanyal, the old fisherman’s quarter, which was lined with buildings tiled in bright, geometric patterns. Tiles are good for salty air — their glossy exteriors are immune to erosion. I got a tinto de verano at La Fábrica de Hielo (literally, the ice factory) for the golden hour, followed by tapas and vermouth at Casa Montaña, a tavern dating back to 1836. Dinner at Anyora felt delightfully local, featuring sweet langoustines and tender eggplant dolloped with smoky sobrasada. The vintage stores of Ruzafa (the city’s new, hip neighborhood) were surreal — with an eerie Californian edge: racks filled with polos and sports jerseys. The markets were dazzling, brimming with figs big as baseballs, glossy black-red cherries, dusty legs of jamón, endless anchovies. Tourists walked through them wide-eyed and bovine. Locals wasted little time, rattling off their produce orders to vendors, carts by their sides.

Across three of the city’s best fine-dining restaurants (Ricard Camarena, El Poblet, and Quique Dacosta Restaurante), you’ll find riffs on preserved tuna, elevating the fish to the divine by way of lacto-fermentation and dry-aging. The result is like tuna jerky, or jamón ibérico with fish instead of pork. Differing levels of moisture and fat create various versions, some meatier in texture, some melting in the mouth like curls of butter. All of them with the wistful, craveable taste of salt. My tongue wets remembering. Naturally, my eyes prickle too.


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Our Contributors

Sophie Mancini Writer

Sophie Mancini is a New York based writer. Under the New York Times’ creative agency, she helped lead the relaunch of Departures Magazine, where she then went on to become the food editor. Her background spans editorial, brand, and books.

Hisham Akira Bharoocha Illustrator

Hisham Akira Bharoocha is a multimedia artist based in Brooklyn, NY, working across various mediums including large-scale murals, paintings, drawings, collages, audio/visual installations, and performances. Bharoocha has had solo exhibitions at Snow Contemporary and Ginza Mitsukoshi in Tokyo, D’Amelio Terras in New York, and De Vleeshal in The Netherlands, and has exhibited his work in numerous group shows in North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. His work has been published in Artforum, NOWNESS, i-D, V, and Flaunt Magazine to name a few.


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