Valencia’s most celebrated chef is Ricard Camarena. The culinary maestro has opened a handful of restaurants across the city, each of which are greeted by long lines filled with hungry locals and traveling foodies keen to taste his take on contemporary Spanish cuisine. His successful combination of taste, freshly sourced produce and excellence in service has won him a Michelin Star three times.
During my recent trip to Valencia I was keen to taste my way through two of the chef’s celebrated restaurants, both of which are located at the city’s two most beloved markets: the casual Central Bar at the historic Mercado Central and fine dining Habitual at the Gaudi-inspired Mercado Colon.
Valencia’s Mercado Central is one of Spain’s most adored food markets. This huge iron, glass and tile Art Nouveau building, with its parrot and swordfish weathervanes, opened in 1928 and is one of the largest and most attractive markets in Europe. Every morning its 350 or so stalls are filled with a bewildering variety of food so if you’re planning a pretty picnic it’s an excellent spot to source local delicacies.
Hop up at Central Bar and you’ve found the market’s most buzzed about destination. It’s the sort of spot that’s regularly standing room only, so be prepared to get cozy with your neighbours while nibbling on tasty tapas. Central Bar’s unique ethos is its use of “zero kilometre” products, aka everything served here is sourced by vendors at the market. The petite menu offers a wild selection of Spanish sandwiches (bocadillo) and crispy croquettes which are best enjoyed with a glug of ice cold craft beer.
Situated in the stylish district of Ensanche, on the site of the former Marqués de Campo gas factory, the bustling Mercado Colon plays host to a handpicked selection of food stalls, cafes, and high-quality shops. In addition to its tremendous eating, drinking, and shopping opportunities, it offers visitors a true architectural spectacle, one that convincingly combines its rousing Modernista design with contemporary aesthetic restorations. Built between 1914 and 1916 by local architect Francisco Mora Berenguer, the Mercado Colon went through a major refurbishment project that completed in 2003. Of major interest are its colourful Gaudi-inspired façade, the ubiquitous decorations depicting scenes from Valencian country life.
Skip downstairs and slide into Habitual, Chef Camarena’s take on Mediterranean, featuring influences from the Italian coast, Mediterranean islands, Provence in France, and all across Spain. The kitchen works closely with farmers in close proximity in Valencia to celebrate the best of each season. Highlights from Habitual include Red Prawn and avocado canelonni with puttanesca tomato and Duck Confit with roast cabbage, hoisin and green apple salad.
Chef Camarena has proved that dining out at your local food market can be a spectacular experience…if only we all called Valencia our home sweet home!
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