Valencia is known as the birthplace of paella, the fabulous dish cooked over an open fire with short grain rice and an assortment of seafood and meats. On our Culinary Discovery Tour during Marina’s recent call in Valencia, guests learned the secrets to preparing authentic paella and sampled this famous dish in the city in which it originated.

Photo 2Before heading to the market to shop for paella ingredients, we stopped at the City of Arts and Sciences, designed by world-renowned Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava. Among the stunning collection of modern structures are the striking Hemisfèric, which houses an IMAX theater; the Science Museum, resembling a whale skeleton; and Oceanogràfic, Europe’s largest aquarium. During our stop, we enjoyed a refreshing horchata, a local drink made with a tuber called “chufa” that has been farmed in Valencia for over 1,000 years.

We continued on to another architectural masterpiece, the Mercat Central, which was designed by Alejandro Soler March and Francisco Guardia Vial and houses one of the largest and oldest markets in Europe. With over 1,000 stalls, Valencia’s Mercat Central is a feast for the senses, overflowing with seasonal produce, artisanal pork, fresh seafood and tapas bars. It is a lively place where the locals shop daily and politely mix with the tourists drawn to the beauty of the building as much as the magnificence of the market.

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After a brief orientation to the market, our guests split into groups and set off to find a ripe tomato, onion, garlic and red pepper for our afternoon cooking class. Everyone enjoyed shopping the stalls brimming with fantastic produce and selecting the finest ingredients available. Meanwhile, I went to purchase local Bomba rice and pimento, as well as some jamón for tasting later. As the fall season is upon us, squash were beginning to appear, so I sampled the Calabaza squash that was roasted and served in wedges to eat while strolling through the market. It was so delicious that I purchased one to roast for the group when we returned to the ship!

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Photo 1-3We then regrouped for the short drive to La Pepica, a local restaurant renowned for paella. La Pepica has a kitchen that would make any chef’s heart skip a beat, and the setting for our lunch was no less stunning – a seaside promenade where we could enjoy the ocean breeze and the company of new friends. We could hear the waves crashing not 50 feet away, musicians strolling along the boardwalk, and the quiet chatter of Spanish exchanged between the locals. (Not many tourists have the chance to discover this wonderful place.)

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Our luncheon began with local wines and traditional pan con tomate, a remarkably simple yet delicious dish of grilled bread with fresh tomato, garlic and extra virgin olive oil (Spanish, of course). This was followed by a refreshing green salad, fried baby squid, and pickled fish and red peppers in olive oil.

Then the masterpiece was unveiled – Valencian paella served in a paella pan the size of a flying saucer! After a round of applause and many oohs and ahs, we savored a heaping plate of delectable paella made with rabbit, flavorful rice and the requisite green beans that typically distinguish Valencian paella. The finale was a passion fruit mousse, after which we enjoyed a stroll along the lovely beach as the perfect digestive.

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After returning to the ship for a short respite, we gathered in the Bon Appétit Culinary Center for a class in the art of paella. So as not to leave our readers out of the fun, I’ll share the recipe on tomorrow’s blog!