Valencia and the Culture of Esmorzaret! Almuerzo in La Matandeta, Alfafar.


The Almuerzo Group!

The Almuerzo Group!

That social media is a powerful tool has not been in doubt for some time as its use in recent government elections has shown. But the same media has the effect sometimes of drawing attention to something which has been going on for a very, very long time and in Valencia that is the `almuerzo´or `esmorzaret´. Today, Facebook in particular seems to be full on a daily basis of pictures of the mid-morning meal so favoured by the Valencians. I well remember being amused, 11 years ago, when going for a coffee in the local bar after the shopping had been done. Sure enough it would be full of local people and travelling salesmen/ delivery staff etc, eating a long French style loaf of bread full of something which smelled good! This would be washed down by a glass of wine or  a beer and be accompanied by the local peanuts and olives.

Standard Almuerzo!

Standard Almuerzo!

Gradually we started to join in , maybe a bocadillo with jamon and tomato, or tortilla. It seemed incredibly good value as well at about 4€ a head and often was sufficient for lunch. There seem to be no hard and fast rules about almuerzo. You do not have to eat your chosen `filler´from the bread. It was perfectly acceptable to have a plate of sausages, or a `pincho´of tortilla on its own. All that seemed to be necessary was to pitch up to the bar anytime from about 10.00am and order what you wanted ( until lunch at 14.00pm took over). Gradually we learned to try the other `fillers´ on offer in our local and were rarely disappointed. Over the years my understanding of this traditional elevenses,  come `brunch´ is that not only are there no rules, there is an unlimited seasonal selection of fillers with many  regional variations. I am not even going to take a stab at telling you how old the tradition is. But I will explain how it appears as a new phenomenon and how there seems to be a huge `revival´spawned by the Facebook coverage! Every true Valencian will down tools at some point in the morning, they may not go to the bar but they will have something to eat and drink. This applies to everyone, there is no class element involved. Humble agricultural workers, bank staff or town hall employees all down tools and take a break. Chances are they will probably go to the same place regularly, meet the same people, talk about the issues of the day, catch up with Fb or twitter on their smartphones but they will all be having almuerzo!!

Inside La Matandeta

Inside La Matandeta

In the last few months one of the fastest growing groups on Fb has been `La Cultura del Almuerzo´. This group has not influenced the culture one iota! Bars have not changed their traditional dishes one little bit! No! But what has happened is that members of the group  photograph their food. The pictures are instantly uploaded to Fb and shared, very often together with a commentary on the quality and the price. Then other members of the group will visit when they are in the vicinity on business or, in exceptional circumstances make a big detour to try the latest recommendations! The group itself has started having collective almuerzos. The first held in the Terrace Cafe of MUVIM in central Valencia attracted around 50 people. The second in Meliana in the Horta Nord saw some 75 people go to the very traditional Barraca de Toni Montoliu and the third with over 110 adults and some younger `next generation´ almeurzistas descended on a windy Albufera Natural Park and specifically La Matandeta restaurant.

Some Modern Pottery in the Restaurant.

Some Modern Pottery in the Restaurant.

Rafa Galvez and Maria Dolores Baixauli are the current owners of a former livestock  farm converted some 24 years ago into a traditional restaurant serving the dishes from the South of Valencia. Today its agricultural shell has been converted into a superb `sala´decorated with replicas of traditional Valencian pottery and modern artworks. It is situated on the road between Alfafar and El Saler. Here the lake which is fed by rainwater and natural nutrients such as algae grows DO Valencia rice, the major  component of the paellas and arroces for which the restaurant is also widely respected. Not surprisingly , it was not in their best interests to provide bocadillos for all the guests. So the almuerzo took the form of a `menu degustacion´ where we all tried all of the plates which were on offer. photo(9) The peanuts  were replaced by a selection of modern style`crisps´ made from rice flour with rosemary and a second version with curry. The olives, home cured,  were too good to be replaced with an alternative! The bread, served throughout the meal was a mixture of traditional sticks, cheese or olive breads etc. There were also a salmuera of preserved vegetables, a salmorejo and  a hummus with cummin.

Octopus and onion

Octopus and onion

The `fillers´were represented by slow cooked artichokes stuffed with a salt cod sauce, a triangle of bread with baby sausages, chorizo and morcilla, a tomato salad with tuna in escabeche, baby broad beans cooked with lardons of jamon in a snail based stock, octopus cooked with onions and a pisto ( very like a Provencal ratatuoille) .

Baby Broad Beans and Salmoreja

Baby Broad Beans and Salmoreja

The dessert was a traditional coca ( sponge cake) with an excellent citric sorbet.

Dessert

Dessert

All of this was washed down with beer or a good Crianza Shiraz from Sebiran, the Requena bodega whose owner Ken Waggener is an enthusiastic almeurzista!! photo 1(51) The quality of food produced was superb and La Matandeta lived up to its reputation! The restaurant will organise almuerzos for groups by prior arrangement. Sadly the weekends weather was too windy for the planned boat ride around the Albufera but this was replaced by a  talk from Paco Bauxali whose knowledge of the history  of the gastronomy of the Albufera was fascinating.   Few for example would know about the many types of wild rice which eventually coalesced into todays well know speciality varieties, nor that it was all from Egypt, that the planting methods are very special and that historically the Templars (and the Knights of the Maestrat) sent moors to the Albufera because they were better at growing the rice! The discussion on eating the wild rats from the area is probably best passed over quickly! So, in conclusion, the phenomena which is Social media  has not changed the traditions. It  HAS almost certainly produced not only an increase in the interest in them but a boost for local restaurants and bars across Valencia serving them as aficionados and interested visitors understand more and seek out the best examples! Saborea, El Mundo´s publishing arm recently produced a helpful book written by Paco Alonso , Valencia´s crusading foodie journalist, #LaCulturaDelAlmuerzo.…which may just give you an idea where to find out more on Twitter!!! Cultura Almuerzo

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