How to become a “local” in Valencia?
January 1, 1970
La Comunidad Valenciana in Spain is a region south of Catalunya, south of Barcelona. Although we might know some stereotypes about Spanish people, Valencians will prove most of them wrong…well, not all, but it’s still a nice surprise. Provided that you are not going in the hottest time of the year (late July and August) when the city is basically empty, you will have the best time if you follow the below steps, trust me!
Step 1 – Do some basic touristy stuff
Yes, please. I don’t agree with all this traveller vs. tourist competition. At some point you do need to see the main sights (I’m sure you know the sights in your hometown). In Valencia it’s not only easy because these things are quite close to each other, but they are actually in use by local people. Valencia is a nice, friendly town and it has not been spoilt by focusing on touristy things. For example the City of Arts and Sciences has buildings that are used for concerts, museums, clubs, local exhibitions, fairs, etc. The city center is just incredibly beautiful and the vivid nightlife of El Carmen is really memorable. And the river which has all the life during the day. It’s also amazing (for someone from a country without sea) that you can go to the beach whenever you want by hopping on the tram 4 or 6. The easiest way to get to know all this things is to go to a free walking tour where you can also get tips about the city.
Step 2 – Eating.
The Spanish are extremely conscious about eating. Life in Spain starts at 9:00 including the supermarkets’ opening time, and ends the earliest around 23h-midnight. As they have such a long day, they cannot do the whole day without eating regularly.
So they have 5 meals:
1 – Desayuno (breakfast) in the morning at 8-9, something simple: juice, coffee, toast, cereals.
2 – At 10:30-11:00 el almuerzo which is a small snack, maybe a sandwich, a pincho of tortilla (pincho means a small portion, basically a slice) and coffee.
3 – Between 14-16: la comida which is the lunch. It usually consists of salad (ensalada), several starters (entrada), the main course which is usually rice with something (also known as paella around the world, but the Valencians are really nervous about it as not everything with rice is paella, so just look for “arroz” instead), then dessert (postre) and coffee in the end. After this meal I can assure you that you’ll understand why the siesta is necessary.
4 – At around 18:30-19:00 la merienda which is the snack in the afternoon. Usually a coffee and something sweet.
5 – At 21:00 which for other Europeans is really late you can have dinner (cena). Dinner is simpler, usually some tapas or sandwich or a light dish, but definitely not rice. That’s for lunch.
You, as a tourist/traveller will not be aware too much about the time of the day. However, if you want to have real local dishes you will need keep this timing in mind. The menus for lunch are available usually between 14:00-16:00 only, so should you have slept in a little bit and getting hungry at 17:00, I’m sorry but you will not be able to get a proper meal, the restaurants even close and open again in dinner time only. Most shops and stores are also closed this time.
Some useful information about food and drinks:
- La paella valenciana: this is the alpha and the omega of paella. You are in the region where the concept paella was born, so this is the first that you should try.
- Arroz negro: it’s black rice with sea fruit. Usually accompanied by alioli which is basically garlic, olive oil and eggs (looks like mayonnaise). Recommended.
- Arroz con cangrejo: really similar food to fish soup in Italy, but this one is with rice. Crabs, fish and octopus is included. Delicious.
- Tortilla de patatas: It’s really not an omelette. A huge number of eggs and potato are the main ingredients, but it can be prepared in several other ways. It can be part of basically any meal.
- Los calamares: fried squid. I don’t know why but I became addicted to this one. Really good.
- Coffee: they don’t really have the latte macchiato, so don’t try to drink that one (unless you go to McCafé). They have cafe solo (espresso), cortado (coffee with a little milk) and cafe con leche (coffee with a normal amount of milk).
- La horchata (aka orxata): it’s a soft drink made of tiger nuts (chufas). Usually consumed with fartons which are some sweet scones. Look for horchata de Alboraya because Alboraya is the original place where it is produced.
- La cerveza or la birra (in Valencian language): anytime of the day is fine to have a small beer (they don’t really have the 0.5l beer).
- La casalla: typical shot of Valencia, anise based drink.
- La agua de Valencia: an orange based cocktail with cava (champagne), orange juice, vodka and gin.
Step 3 – Basic Valencian (valencià)
It’s not really important because everyone only wants to communicate in Valencian. But still, the street signs are in Valencian and the maps are in Spanish. So you’d better learn how to convert Valencian to Spanish and vica versa. The two languages are quite similar, Valencian has shorter words (like they just cut the end of the Spanish word) and a bit more accents in the other direction (e.g. typical to use à). Some basic words:
Bon dia! = Good day!
Bon mati! = Good morning!
Bona vesprada! = Good afternoon!
Bona nit! = Good evening!
Hola = Hi
Què tal? = How are you?
Fins demà = See you tomorrow
Fins després = See you later
Una birra/cervessa = A beer
Per favor = Please
Gràcies = Thank you
In the whole region of Valencia the two languages can live together in peace. There are some people whose mother tongue is Spanish and there are some whose mother tongue is Valencian. Everything and everyone is bilingual.
Step 4 – What are the Fallas?
It’s important to know about the Fallas, even if you don’t go to Valencia that time of the year. People who participate in the organization are called “falleros” and they organize several smaller events during the year.
Las Fallas is a celebration that takes place from late February to late March. There are marches, religious celebrations, carnivals for a whole month and on the top of everything: La Nit del Foc (the night of the fire). Huge statues of wood are burnt down on this night which has been nicely prepared during the year and cost tons of money (some can cost hundreds of thousand euros). The statues are called fallas. And the statues are owned by a small community which is called a falla. They usually organize some street parties and concerts the week before burning down the statues. The whole city is like a big free festival for a week. Despite the fact that many Valencians just leave for the week to have some rest as it is a school holiday it is still an event to experience!
Step 5 – Meet locals!
Now you know the basics, the only thing left is to use your knowledge. Don’t be afraid to meet them and talk with them about these topics, they will be happy to explain them to you as all of them are very proud of their origins as Valencians! As in many Spanish cities there are language exchange events, Valencia has them too. Spanish people come to realize that they need to speak English and they want to practise their English, so it’s easy to meet fun local people! 🙂
I hope I could give you a good overview about Valencia so you can enjoy your stay fully there!