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Valencia’s own designation of origin rice, a thousand years of growing.
Publishing date 5/01/2015
Some would say that rice hides a mysterious secret within, since it is able to exalt with its only company any kind of vegetable, meat or fish, despite being somewhat bland on its own. Truth be told, its virtues are many and then some more, and one of them is to merge and combine scents, tastes and textures, providing an endless gastronomic catalogue. A tour around the Albufera of Valencia, where rice has been planted since over a thousand years ago, reveals the secrets of a crop that changes with the seasons.
Mediterranean seafood, game meats or poultry, the humblest of vegetables, simple legumes or a few fishbones, can become a feast when they are accompanied by rice, be it in a soup like manner, or stewed soft, or drier as in paella. And so this cereal, with the characteristics of a terrestrial plant, but actually living with its roots submerged in water, is one of the foundations of the Mediterranean cuisine.
In the Valencian lands of the Ribera, in the Albufera, rife with flowers and orange trees, dense rice plantations follow one after another, an ancient and shifting crop. In Valencia, Sueca and Cullera, under the umbrella of the board that regulates the Designation of Origin “Rice of Valencia” and ensures the quality of rice, there is a production of 120 million kilograms of rice varieties as Gleva, Fonsa, J. Sendra, Albufera, and overall Senia, Bahía and Bomba, well fitted to the needs of the Albufera Natural Park.
All these varieties absorb the broths perfectly offering a pleasant texture and taste. Bahía and Senia are medium grained; they have the same organoleptic characteristics and are perfect for cooking any traditional Valencian recipe. So is the Bomba, which does not open longitudinally, as happens with the rest of varieties, but transversely like an accordion, reaching two or three times the size of the raw grain.
The gastronomy of Valencia, based mainly on rice, is the result of its climate and its diversity, its meadows and orchards, its sea and its sun. The proof of this is an amazing repertoire of Mediterranean recipes with an identity of its own.
And it is so, because the rice reserve of the Albufera, with nearly three thousand hectares of land flooded by the river Júcar, in full production keeps an incredible world full of life and biodiversity within.
There are two routes with stops at ullals (springs of groundwater) and acequias (irrigation canals dating back to Al Andalus times), one of them traverses the marsh south of the Júcar river, while the other crosses the rice crops of Sueca. Both pass through beautiful rice plantations, green or brown paths, showing the reality of a product introduced in the Iberian peninsula a long time ago, after the Muslim conquest in the year 711, which still is today, well into the twenty-first century, one of the jewels of Valencia.