You haven’t experienced the culture in Valencia until you have tried Paella Valenciana. Paella is a rice dish that is commonly associated with the entirety of Spain. However, Valencia was where this delicious dish was originally created and is what it is known for. I had the opportunity to try Paella Valenciana at the famous Barraca de Toni Montoliu. We arrived at his farm and were sent off to help Toni harvest the vegetables for our feast later that day.
He had us line up next to the vegetables and then we had a little “catch”. Toni would cut different vegetables off their stalk and then would proceed to throw the vegetables to us with little to no warning on where they were going. It even got to the point where one unfortunate and unknowing student was hit in the head with soaring lettuce. Nothing says fresh like flying vegetables. After this we headed back to the restaurant located on the farm. On the way we were met by a hungry goat who would eat the vegetables of any student who was unaware of how low they were holding their lettuce. Our program director even tried to tame the goat like a matador with a bull. When we were finally able to make it back to the restaurant we were able to see the chef at work. He cooked some of the vegetables for the paella in a pan that was large enough to feed a village.
We were finally ushered into the restaurant to begin our eight course meal. We started off with a gorgeous rainbow salad with all the vegetables we had collected. We then had a bread and hummus dish created with a local bean called garrofo. The appetizers were then finished with patatas bravas and fried calamari. Although, most of us were already stuffed, we still hadn’t gotten to the main course. The chef brought out the huge pan and set it on a table in the middle of all of us. Toni and the chef then proceeded to put piles of the paella on plates and handed them out to the eagerly awaiting students. Valencian Paella is made with chicken, garrofo, tomatoes, green beans, paprika, olive oil, saffron, and, of course, rice. Although, we were already full it was hard not to finish the delicious paella. If we thought this was the end, we were wrong. We finished off the meal with a traditional Valencian dessert of roasted pumpkin with honey and cinnamon, a fruit salad, and slices of cinnamon and lemon pound cake. It is safe to say that after this meal I did not eat for 10 hours. If you are lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit La Barraca de Toni Montoliu it is an experience you can’t turn down. It is here where I was able to try the Valencian staple food and truly began to emerge myself in its culture.
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