Alicante’s gastronomic diversity (I)
Are you hungry? According to a report by the Spanish Hospitality Foundation, in 2016 there were approximately 247577 businesses active in the restaurant sector, and 9607 of those restaurants and food stalls were located in the Valencian Community. Even without the help of statistics it is well known that the Community offers an excellent amount, quality and variety of culinary establishments. As we proudly show you in these pages issue after issue, the three Valencian provinces offer a lot more than just sun and beaches.
In this article we would like to give you an introduction to the large variety of options at your disposal for satisfying your appetite in the province that our editorial board calls home, the province of Alicante. Because if you do not feel like cooking yourself and you would like to enjoy a nice evening or afternoon in the company of friends or family, you are not allowed to claim you do not know where to go to!
A lot more than rice dishes
Many visitors’ notion of the Spanish (Mediterranean) kitchen is limited to the golden image of a paella, but that hardly encompasses all of it. Rice dishes are an essential ingredient in Valencian cooking, and therefore by extension in that of the province of Alicante, that much is true. Historians claim that its production already started in Roman times, but that it did not truly take off only after the Moorish conquest in 711, encouraged by the large amount of swamps and areas in our region that were easily prone to flooding. In Alicante Pego and Oliva are particularly notorious in this regard. Yet, for the same reason we almost did not get to enjoy this marvellous type of grain, since its production was explicitly forbidden during the 14th century and for a while, due to fear of the diseases that could be spread from the still waters where it was grown.
Nowadays there are more than 100 different recipes so that every person might find one to her or his liking: a banda (in a fish broth with garlic butter, potatoes and ñora), with rape fish and gamba shrimp, in black ink with squid pieces, with rabbit meat and snails, with lobster… We dare you to enter a rice restaurant and to discover the large variety of possibilities at your disposal! Obviously, one of the best ways for doing so is by the sea, but if you truly want to judge the quality of a rice dish, do not do it based on the view from your table, but based on the quality of the stock in which it has been prepared. And if you want to try out the authentic Valencian rice, this designation of origin is reserved for three different varieties of white and brown rice: Bomba, Sénia and Bahía.
As you may have noticed from our description above, the gastronomy in Alicante also takes advantage of the wealth the Mediterranean Sea has to offer. Do not hesitate to visit the ports and their markets in search of the best fish or mollusc like the red mullets from Calpe, the striped shrimp from Denia, or the sea eagles from Alicante. In the province of Alicante you can both find establishments specialised in only one type of seafood as others where a whole variety of fish stews are prepared, do take advantage of the gifts Neptune has to offer. In short, in those areas closest to the coastline you should not miss out on enjoying the seafood.
Alicante’s cuisine is characterised by its good taste and sea products, but its gardens and orchards also bring a freshness to the table that any foodie who visits the area will appreciate. Since it is a land of vegetables and fruit, both the traditional recipes and those born out of culinary innovation contribute an unmistakeable quality of healthiness to the region’s gastronomy through healthy recipes that can be found throughout its geography, with the Mediterranean diet as its standard. There is no better way to warm up for a meal than through a fresh and crunchy salad, including some juicy tomatoes, or to complement meat than by means of artichokes, paprika, or eggplants.
And for dessert, we would like to highlight the tradition of the handmade convent desserts, the ice cream of Xixona, the chocolate of Villajoyosa, or if you prefer some kind of fruit, grapes such as those from Medio Vinalopó, the loquats of Callosa d’en Sarrià, or the dates from Elche. Accompany it all with a fine wine such as the muscatel from Teulada or the red wines from the Jalón valley, or the white ones with the Designation of Origin Alicante. Do you prefer trying something sweet that you can enjoy both as a dessert and as vitamin drink? Then we recommend you give an authentic horchata de chufa (tiger nut milk) a try.
In the last decades there has been a culinary jump in quality thanks to chefs that do their utmost based on respect for the products and that present both the local population and the visitors the best seafood and produce the land has to offer. With so much talent and so many quality ingredients it should come as no surprise that Alicante puts in a considerable effort in gastronomic innovation and can boast restaurants and chefs with Michelin stars. We would like to highlight the pioneering efforts of female chef Pepa Romans in Ondara or those of professionals such as Susi Diaz in La Finca de Elche, María José de San Román at the Monastrell, Rafa Saler at Audrey’s in Calpe, Alberto Ferruz in Jávea, or Quique Dacosta in Denia, among others.
By María Fernanda Escalona Granadillo & Alexander Van der Biest