Takeaway

Sips of Valencia

Ananya Bahl | Updated on September 18, 2020 Published on September 17, 2020

Here’s your horchata: The quintessential way to relish a chilled glass of tiger nut milk is to stop by a Món Orxata cart   -  IMAGES COURTESY: VISIT VALENCIA

A healthy and a heady drink capture the Spanish city’s love for all things good

* Horchata, or tiger nut milk, is made by smashing tiger nuts or chufas (xufa in Valencian). This paste is combined with water and sugar, and then mixed with cinnamon to create a cooling concoction

* Valencia is also known for oranges and nightlife. The two come together beautifully to create the Agua de Valencia (water of Valencia), a cocktail made with orange juice and a variety of liquors

On a sunny afternoon in early October last year, I stood gaping at the glassy blue façade of Oceanogràfic Valencia, Europe’s largest aquarium. When clubbed with the avant-garde Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències — a complex of which it is a part — it offers much ground to cover. Around me, families, solo travellers and couples milled about: Some purchased tickets, others focused on maps detailing the sprawling complex. And there I was, with one eye on the entrance and the other on a woman right outside the premises. Excited kids huddled about her as she drew something out of a large cauldron. The saline sea breeze and bright sun made me thirsty — and curious. I walked up to the woman selling a local drink called horchata. It’s to Valencia, Spain’s third-largest city after Madrid and Barcelona, what the dollar pizza is to New York City.

The gold standard

Horchata, or tiger nut milk, is made by smashing tiger nuts or chufas (xufa in Valencian). This paste is combined with water and sugar, and then mixed with cinnamon to create a cooling concoction. Legend has it that the drink got its name from the phrase “aixo es or, xata (this is gold, darling)”, uttered by King James I when he was offered a glass upon recapturing Valencia from the Moors in 1238. Despite being called tiger nuts, chufas are actually tubers grown in the farming lands or huertas around the city.

While horchata is available in supermarkets, the quintessential way to relish a chilled glass of tiger nut milk is to stop by a Món Orxata cart, like the one outside Oceanogràfic Valencia. It tastes almost like almond milk but is thinner in texture and artificially sweetened (you can also ask for low-sugar options). Along with this refreshing beverage, I enjoyed a farton — a long, pastry-like bun glazed with sugar. Apart from these, you can also buy sacks of dried chufas at the Món Orxata carts. These carts are at all major tourist and shopping spots in Valencia (a glass of horchata along with a farton costs about ₹400).

One nut, many ways

In addition to the legend about James I, there are theories about the tiger nut being brought to Spain by the Arabs and stories that it was first grown in ancient Egypt. Most travellers don’t care about the health benefits of a drink they come across on a holiday, but chufa lovers in Valencia love to educate the newly initiated. This “milk” is lactose-free and known to improve skin and blood circulation. It may also lower bad cholesterol and help fight Type-2 diabetes. If nothing, its aphrodisiacal qualities please the senses.

Apart from the Món Orxata carts, you can head to Helados Bertal Ice-creams & Horchata (also try their hearty brunch) and Horchatería Daniel (credited in 1987 as the first to create horchata ice cream, they also sell chufa cosmetics, cookies, turron and chocolates) to relish this sip of Valencia. La Lola, a contemporary restaurant in the city centre, serves a delightful horchata-flavoured panna cotta.

Time for a tipple

The sip of good health is meant for the hours in the sun. Valencia is also known for oranges and nightlife. The two come together beautifully to create the Agua de Valencia (water of Valencia), a cocktail made with orange juice and a variety of liquors. It is said that in 1959, a barman from the city was asked to create a cocktail that would give competition to the Agua de Bilbao (which is Spanish sparkling wine or cava). The result was the Agua de Valencia — a mixture of cava, vodka, gin, and orange juice. As the story goes, a group of Basque travellers, fed up of asking for the house cava, asked Constante Gil of Café Madrid in Valencia to make them something new. As a joke, he offered to make them Agua de Valencia. The Basques played along and even enjoyed the drink that Gil was forced to concoct.

Drink up: Agua de Valencia, a potent mix of orange juice, cava and other liquors

 

I, too, enjoyed a round of Agua de Valencia at the Victorian-style Café de las Horas (other popular watering holes being Lladró Lounge, Lolita Cocktail Bar and, of course, Café Madrid). My fellow traveller and I ordered a pitcher and sipped the late-night beverage in little champagne saucers. A post-dinner session didn’t mean there was no food. Spanish tapas such as croquettes stuffed with cod, anchovies soaked in vinegar, crispy potatoes with spicy tomato sauce and clams crowded the table. All of it gelled well with the ice-cold punch on the balmy night. Salud!

Ananya Bahl is a travel writer based in Mumbai

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

Published on September 17, 2020
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor