One of the joys of living in Europe, and more specifically in Spain, is the idea of a local place to get breakfast. In Valencia, there are many, many cafeterías that serve a variety of traditional Spanish breakfasty-brunchy foods. This part is not unusual, but the mild weather in Valencia means that you will probably be sitting outside and enjoying coffee and a bite to eat for a very reasonable price (compared to the US).
Our favorite place is just around the corner, and has a recently-expanded outside seating area. Sure, there's noise from the nearby traffic, but if getting your bearings on the day includes being around people, then it's the perfect combination of la vida en la calle (local life outside your home) and satisfying food. What can you find on the menu that is significantly different from US breakfast options? Well, gentle reader, today we cover one of the most important meals of the day: the morning meal.
Wouldn't you call the morning meal breakfast? Well, yes, but in Valencia the most common way to describe a substantial meal at around 10 is almuerzo (pronounced owl-MOOER-tho). In other parts of Spain and the world, the word almuerzo means something like brunch or lunch, but hey, we are in Valencia! Let's take our cues from the local folks.
While we aren't discussing the meals throughout the day, let me start with a disclaimer: I consistently eat the wrong things at the wrong time. In fact, the owner of the coffee shop around the corner accused us of ordering a wild combination, a potpourri of food that doesn't make much sense to the Spanish stomach. My American sensibilities and flavor appetite is a bit different that what people have grown up eating.
So what will you find in a Valencian coffee shop? Here are a few of the more common items. It's not an exhausting list, but being a vegetarian means that I really don't pay much attention to the meat-centric items.
- Café con leche. To me, this is the king of coffees, with the right balance of coffee, hot milk, and a tiny bit of foam.
- Croissants. Okay, I know these are not Spanish originally, but I don't think I have ever been in a Spanish coffee shop without seeing croissants. Some of the more delicious variations include fillings like nutella and coverings like white chocolate ganache.
- Pan de chocolate / napoletana. Like a croissant, only with more of a square shape and with chocolate in the middle. If you like chocolate jimmies / sprinkles, then this is the most likely pastry to find that particular ingredient.
- Tostada con tomate. Who knew that toast (usually like a small baguette cut in half lengthwise) and chopped tomato could taste so good with a little olive oil and salt? This has been my favorite breakfast for years, and while I have tried in the US, it just doesn't have the same appeal to me. This breakfast, while basic, it pretty darn satisfying.
- Tortilla española. This is Spanish food royalty. Search for this on the internet and you can see thousands of different recipes, but the preparation is usually extremely similar. It's a potato- or potato-and-onion-filled flipped-egg dish. Served hot, cold, or room temperature, it's a staple in restaurants and coffee shops alike. It goes great in a bocadillo (long bread sandwich) or with some crusty bread on the side.
- Jamon y queso. Okay, ham and cheese are ubiquitous in Spain. In a sandwich, on a plate, with olives, or filling an empanada, it's usually something my friends rave about. (I'll rave about the cheese, but the ham can stay safely on their plates).
- Empanadillas. Hand pies filled with various meats, cheeses, and vegetables make a regular appearance in most coffee shops. Usually served room temperature or warmed up a bit, they make a tasty breakfast.
- Cocas and bizcochos. If it's flat and it's baked in a pan, you might just be talking about a coca or bizcocho. These can be sweet, like a light pound-cake treat, or savory, like vegetables or cheese and meat. Ask for a trozo, or portion, if you want to give it a try. I have a particular fondness for bizcocho de calabaza, which is like a pumpkin coffee cake. It's both simple and elegant. (I am particularly fond of calabazas!)
- Seasonal pastries. In my opinion, seasonal pastries are where the fun really starts. Every so often, a different pastry appears in the case, and I am compelled to try at least one. Some recommendations? My current favorite is huesos de santos, or "saint's bones," found around November 1 (All Saints' Day). Some close runners-up are pasteles de boniato (a small empanadilla filled with a white sweet-potato and anise filling) and rollitos de anís, which are small ring-shaped cookies with a distinct and extremely pleasant licorice flavor.
Gentle readers, I made it clear that this would not be an exhaustive list. However, if you've been to Spain and have some favorites that you would recommend, please share in the comments below!