Posts Tagged ‘Spain’

La Pepica: the mother church of paella in Valencia

La Pepica kitchen

When Valencianos say that they are "going to the beach," they usually mean Playa de Malvarossa, an urban strand blessed by fine sand, gentle waves, surprisingly clean waters—and the mother of all paella restaurants, La Pepica. While three-quarters of the menu of this venerable eatery (founded 1898) consists of fish and shellfish, the other quarter is a golden litany of nearly two dozen classic Valencian rice dishes.

A maestro of La Pepica

The main entrance is on the beach, but we prefer entering from the street just to walk past the dynamic kitchen where dozens of cooks in gleaming kitchen whites prepare pristine ingredients and juggle huge paella pans. The dining room is daunting. In foul weather, it seats about 450. In good weather, outdoor tables can accommodate another 200. Yet the food and service remain every bit as good as when Hemingway feasted here 60 years ago, and wrote glowingly of the meal. (Unlike some Hemingway haunts, La Pepica has aged well.)

Presenting the paella

It is uncanny how the waiters in white shirts and black vests can service 450 diners at a time and still get the orders out lickety-split. They bring each finished paella to the table for approval, then retire to a serving station to dole it out on individual plates.

Every tourist eatery in Spain sells plates of orange rice festooned with shrimp and mussels; in Valencia that dish is known as “arroces con mariscos,” or “rice with shellfish.” Paella valenciana, the authentic local paella, comes from the garden, not the sea. Filled with vegetables, land snails, and pieces of chicken and rabbit, it’s cooked in a shallow pan over a very hot fire. La Pepica serves an exemplary version—redolent of saffron and paprika, with al dente rice cooked to a thin crust on the bottom. The vegetables and snails are earthy, the chicken and rabbit sweet and falling off the bone.

Reservations are not essential, but might help avoid a wait on the weekend. La Pepica, Paseo Neptuno, 2-8. Tel: 963-710-366, Open daily for lunch and for dinner Monday-Saturday.


01 2010

What to buy in a Spanish grocery store

SpanishpimentonWe love visiting fresh markets when we travel. But except for dried herbs and spices, most of the goods won’t make it through US Customs. Once we’ve snapped dozens of photos of mounds of vegetables and tables of glistening fish on ice, we head to a neighborhood grocery store (the kind where homemakers, not tourists, shop) to stock up on food essentials to bring home.

Here’s our Spanish grocery list:


Spaniards claim their saffron is the world’s best and price it accordingly. The larger the container, the better the deal. We usually purchase saffron in 20-gram boxes or larger. (A half gram is sufficient for a 15-inch paella.) Stored in an airtight container out of the light, it will keep up to seven years—or so we have been told. It never lasts that long for us.

Pimentón de la Vera

It’s hard to resist the colorful tins holding smoked paprika from Extremadura. The earthy red spice with a mild hint of smoke seasons chorizo and most forms of paella. It’s most commonly available as dulce (sweet) or picante (hot). Dulce, which is slightly hot, adds a touch of warmth and deep coloring to rice dishes and soups. It is the main paprika used in Spanish sauces (including Bravas). Use the picante sparingly. It heat approaches as most Mexican chile peppers. If we plan to make a barbecue dry rub, we look for the less common ahumado, which has a strong smoky component.

Sea Salt

Flaked sea salt is a current foodie favorite, but we prefer the coarser Spanish sea salt sold for roasting fish or fowl. It can be ground in a salt grinder to use at the table or tossed into liquids as a seasoning. Our favorite brand, Sal Costa from the Costa Brava, costs less than a half euro per kilo.


Canned fish

Spaniards are canning geniuses. Their tinned anchovies, oysters, squid, octopus, clams, and sardines supply half the tapas served in the bars. White anchovies, in particular, taste so good that the Italians import them.

Olive oil

Olive oil is a matter of personal taste. But Spaniards concur that the best in Spain comes from Andalucía—either from Núñez del Prado, or from hill towns around Úbeda. Best bet is “bionatur” oil packaged in tins rather than bottles.

Bomba rice

This heritage strain of rice introduced to the Valencia area from North Africa around 800AD is the premium rice for paella. It’s twice as expensive as “Valencia” rice, and worth every cent for its ability to absorb flavor and maintain its toothy texture.

Manchego cheese

This aged ewe’s milk cheese is the pride of Spanish cheeses. We sometimes bring an entire three-kilo wheel home, but big vacuum-sealed wedges are also available in most grocery stores. It keeps fine for several days without refrigeration.


Valor chocolate

Anyone who visits in cool weather soon discovers the soothing pleasures of Spain’s unusually thick hot chocolate. Valor is a common supermarket brand for recreating the treat at home. It’s even good without the accompanying churros.


12 2009

Cabrales – why it’s good to get the blues

CabralesWe saw many more cows than sheep or even goats as we drove the twisting mountain roads through the Picos de Europa mountain range last spring. Although the Principality of Asturias is the oldest of Iberia’s former kingdoms, the steep green mountains looked more like Switzerland than Spain.

Cows may have predominated, but milk from all three dairy animals goes into Cabrales, possibly the most pungent blue cheese in Europe. When we stopped for lunch in Las Arenas de Cabrales, we made sure we got the blues. The cheese is made by shepherds in the nearby hills, but Las Arenas (pop 797) is the market town. In Sidrería Calluenger (tel: 985-646-441), a hard-cider bar on Plaza Castaneu, we enjoyed a sumptuous lunch of stuffed red piquillo peppers simmered in a Cabrales cream sauce, along with a plate of fried apples, Cabrales, and walnuts drizzled with honey.

Fortunately, we can buy Cabrales at home, and the cheese pairs beautifully with New England heirloom apples. We tried making this dish with several varieties, finally settling on Golden Delicious as the most authentic, with Opalescent (a beautiful apple with skin like a red-and-gold starry night) a close second.

cabrales and apples


Serves 2 as a light lunch or 4 as a combined cheese/dessert course.


1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 Golden Delicious apples, cored and cut into eighths (skin intact)
4 ounces Cabrales cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup lightly toasted and coarsely chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons honey


1. Melt butter in 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add apples and gently saute until lightly speckled with brown spots. Turn over and lightly brown other side.

2. Arrange apples on plate, intermingling with crumbled Cabrales and walnut pieces. Drizzle with honey and serve.


11 2009