It's summertime in Valencia (yup, still here--update on the move coming soon) and we are looking for all the things to keep us cool.
With bright sunny days, high humidity, and melting heat, the locals are retreating to the comfort of their mountain homes, or pulling their persianas (exterior blinds) shut in their apartments to keep the sun at bay. It is also time for the ladies of Spain to have their abanicos (fans) in hand providing relief when walking through the streets or in line at the market.
Living here in the heat of the summer makes me understand the concept of siesta in a way that I couldn't appreciate before. It is too hot to do much of anything but find shade and nap until the sun cannot roast you any longer.
We are fortunate in that we have air conditioning which we use liberally in the bedroom and office, though not every restaurant, shop, venue has it--and forget the busses and metros. Just prepare to sweat.
The heat explains why horchata (orxata in Valenciano) is as popular as it is; creamy, refreshing and indulgent, horchata is thirst-quenching and popular all year long, but it is ubiquitous in the summer..
First things first, Valencian/Spanish horchata is naturally vegan. I can walk in to any shop and order one without concern that there is hidden dairy in it. Second, it is not low-calorie; there is so much sugar in traditional horchata that it tends to have a grittiness that can be unpleasant. And third, this seems to be one of a handful of traditional drinks that is served icy cold, so enjoy when you don't want to sound like a tourist asking for ice.
To get things started, let's get start with the star of the show: the humble yet mighty tiger nut or chufa as it's known in Spain. Don't let the name fool you—these little gems are not nuts at all! They're actually small tubers that grow beneath the sandy soil of Valencia's fields. With a delicate, slightly sweet flavor, tiger nuts are the key ingredient in this creamy drink, infusing it with a unique character that's hard to resist.
To experience the true essence of Valencian horchata, you must pay a visit to the horchaterías—the vibrant establishments where this elixir is crafted. Santa Catalina (check out the table where Princess Isabel sat in 1909) and Daniel are just a few of the revered names in the horchata scene. Step inside these cafes, and be prepared to be transported to a world where horchata reigns supreme.
I will say that over the past few years as tourists have discovered Valencia, more and more carts are appearing in the squares selling ready-made horchata and chufa nuts so that you can take them home as souvenirs and/or gifts. The horchata may not be quite as good, but it is cold, wet, and refreshing when you're parched from walking in the city.
Now, let's unveil the secrets behind the velvety goodness of Valencian horchata. The process begins with soaking the tiger nuts in water to soften them. Then, they are ground and mixed with water and ice to create a luscious, milky liquid. A lot of sugar and a hint of cinnamon are added to enhance the flavor profile. The resulting drink may be strained though i found that most often it is still a bit gritty.
Horchata offers a subtly sweet taste with a nutty/earthy undertone. The coolness of the horchata soothes your dry throat, while the hints of cinnamon add a touch of warmth and spice.
Most often horchata is served with fartons but I don't know much about those as I've yet to find a vegan option in a traditional horchatería.
Valencian horchata is more than just a refreshing beverage—it's a testament to the rich culinary traditions of the region. From the humble chufa to the vibrant horchaterías that bring this cooling bliss to life, every sip tells a story of heritage and craftsmanship.
So, the next time you find yourself in Valencia, don't miss the chance to sip, savor, and beat the summer heat with a glass of Valencian horchata. It's a journey your taste buds won't soon forget!