We’ve all heard of San Sebastian as the foodie destination in Spain. And sure, it well and truly deserves its place amongst the pabulum pantheon. But to hone in too precisely on this small corner of North Eastern Spain is to neglect some of the country’s lesser know hidden gems. We were recently introduced to another Spanish city of gastronomy that is equally as revered by those of the culinarily curious mindset. That place is Denia.
If we could afford to buy a second home or found a villa for sale in Denia large enough, we would be relocating our office there, just for the food, the fiestas (they have more than any other city in Spain) and for some serious sun basking.
Denia is a place where the sea and the mountains merge, offering the best bounty from both worlds, and driving a foodie scene which is both modern yet pays its dues to tradition and respect to the produce of the area. The food industry is listed as the main economic driver of the city and in 2015 Denia was designated Creative City of Gastronomy by UNESCO. So with a unique culinary heritage and outstanding local ingredients, if you’re a foodie looking for gastronomic nirvana, then it’s time to visit. To help you out on your upcoming trip, here are five IDEAL foodie things to do in Denia, Spain.
The Denia red prawn – a supreme sea specimen that is widely considered to be the best prawn in Spain. These crustaceans are so revered they have even inspired music of deference and devotion, and are the subject of ‘La banda sonora de la Gamba Roja de Denia,’ an 18-minute piece of symphonic music for wind instruments and percussion.
But what makes them so good? Firstly, they aren’t easy to catch as they like to live in deep, dark and cold water where there is little to no pollution. Here they are free to grow to a deliciously large and plump size as there aren’t many predators lurking at those depths. Taste wise, due to an unusually high concentration of iodine and salt in their flesh, the prawn has an intense ‘ocean flavour’ with a touch of sweetness. Moreover, the head is much larger than your average prawn, offering huge head-sucking possibilities, where a unique explosion of juices, full of concentrated iodized flavours, take the prawn to a whole other level.
Red spicy prawns from Dénia | © City Foodsters
The quaint, historic street of Calle Loreto, which runs right up to the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, is the ideal strip to appreciate a wide range of delectable tapas dishes. In the heart of the pedestrian old town, the area is one where it’s entirely possible – encouraged even – to take your time and imbibe for hours. It’s the gastronomic centre of town, where every other shop seems to be serving some delicious morsel which you can knock back with a glass of Valenician wine.
Another great spot for the national past time of tapas and people watching is Calle Marques de Campo which acts as the main artery of the city. It’s a pretty tree-lined boulevard with pavement cafes and on the weekend it becomes pedestrianised and restaurant seats spill out onto the street, creating a convivial vibe for the evening ahead.
However, If you really want to make the most out of the best tapas in the city, twice a year the city hosts a ‘tapas route’ where you can acquire a ‘passport’ and participants will sell you their choice and beer, wine or vermouth for just €3.
GO TO AS MANY RESTAURANTS AS YOU CAN
From Michelin starred restaurants to the aforementioned, equally brilliant traditional tapas bars, Denia is home to over 400 restaurants. The only problem, then, is deciding where to eat. If you’re after prawns, sea urchin (another ocean critter Denia does well) and other things from the big blue, Las Marinas is a gorgeous area, with tons of beautiful beach-front seafood eateries.
For a real treat, head to El Bater De Miquel Ruiz. The chef had a Michelin star, but decided to reject that ‘pretentious’ world, and it shows in this relaxed and friendly restaurant which serves modern takes on Spanish classics. However, book a couple of months in advance as this place is popular to avoid disappointment.
The city’s most famous chef is Quique Dacosta who is one of the new leaders of the country’s avant-garde, super modernist cuisine. Using ingredients that are sourced within 75km of his restaurant and with three Michelin stars, he’s one of the most admired chefs in the world right. And, if we must say, one of the suavest.
GO TO A FOODIE FESTIVAL
Or should we say plan your trip around one? Since Denia is officially a ‘Creative City of Gastronomy’ there’s a list of Gastronomic events larger than the average chef’s knife collection to choose from. Every year they hold a ‘creative cuisine competition’ with an annual participation of 50 chefs from across the globe. Here the cooks create dishes from the highly prized prawn we previously eulogised. While gourmands generally agree the best way to eat this prawn is boiled in her own seawater without anything added to mask the natural flavour, the competition and unique dishes still allow for some sparks of creativity and intrigue. Then there’s the D*na Gastronomic Festival, which pays tribute to Mediterranean Denia’s cuisine, and even an International Tapas Day, held over three days each year.
COOK YOUR OWN FOOD
A stroll around a food market should be on every visitor’s holiday hit list. But what’s the point of looking if you’re not some cooking? Indeed. We can’t say it enough; the produce in Denia is outstanding (especially the stuff from the ocean) and any foodie fanatic would be a fool not to get their hands dirty and get amongst it.
Every day, boats chug into Denia’s port at about 3.30pm full of high quality seafood and fish. They are auctioned at La Lonja de Pescado (a city fish market) and then sold to the public from around 5pm. It’s great fun to watch, and even more participate in.
Or, devote one of your mornings to milling round the municipal market on Magallanes Street which is open until 2pm. Then head to the port in the late afternoon to pick up some fresh-off-the-boat fish for your evening meal. For this, a homestay or villa in Denia with a kitchen is essential, and totally worth spending a little more money on.
A Few Local Delicacies…
Besides Denia’s prized prawn, there’s a whole host of other dishes you must try. Everything here is just delicious, but to avoid the needing to buy an extra plane seat on the way back we’ve narrowed it down to a few local culinary specialties
- Arròs a banda (seafood paella) – Yes we know, you can eat it everywhere in Span. However, paella is originally from the Valencia region and paired with Denia’s red prawns, is a match made in seafood heaven.
- La llandeta (seafood stew) – need we say more?
- Cocas – The artisanal cocas, cooked in a wood-fired oven, are a bit like mini pizzas, and as simply, satisfyingly delicious as one. Try traditional Coca de guisantes (pea) or Coca de anchoas (anchovy) or any topped with espencat (grilled vegetables).