The warm days are upon us so it’s time for a long, cool drink. Valencia has two of its very own. Well, ‘Horchata’ was invented in the Sudan and ‘Agua de Valencia’ is really just Buck’s Fizz with a twist. However, let’s not get caught up with details, these days they are both considered as Valencian as paella, fireworks and construction companies.
Horchata is a bit of an acquired taste. While some would go miles out of their way in the summer heat for just a sip, others would go even more miles just to avoid the stuff. One person we spoke to described it as milk mixed with sand. It looks and tastes like a sort of nutty milkshake, although, actually, there’s no milk in it. It is made from crushed “chufas” or tiger nuts and water.
Sometimes in a sort of slush puppy form, it’s always cool and refreshing. Befitting its cough medicine texture, it’s really good for you. Rich in iron and potassium, it has diuretic and energy-restoring properties, sort of a medieval Lucozade really.
The chufa originates from the Chuf area of Sudan. It was one of the first plants to be cultivated by man. They found sacks full of the things in Tutankhamen’s tomb just in case he fancied a few glasses of Horchata in the afterlife, we suppose. The chufa, like most good things, was brought to Valencia by the Moors around the year 700.
However, it wasn’t until the Christian conquest that Horchata got its name, or so legend has it. Some days after the conquest the conquering Christian King Jaime I was riding round the huertas in the Muslim farmlands of Alboraya, surveying his newly conquered properties. It was a hot and dusty day and a Moorish peasant woman offered him a drink. “What is this?” he asked as he gulped down the flavoursome nectar (or milk with sand, depending on your taste). “Aixo es llet de Xufa, Senyor” (it’s Chufa milk, sir) replied the Moorish woman in perfect Valenciano. “Aixo no es llet de xufa, aixo es or, xata” (that’s not chufa milk, that’s gold my girl or words to that effect). And so the name “or xata” or horchata was born. Just why the King was riding around on his own amongst his enemies just days after a fierce battle, just why he accepted a dodgy looking drink from one of them and, indeed, who exactly recorded this conversation has been lost to history but that’s the only explanation you’ll get round here.
Horchata has become the archetypal Valencian Summer drink. Valencians flock to cool off in the ceramic-tiled Horchatarías dotted all around the city, typically decorated in clinical white and blue with wrought iron tables and chairs for maximum cooling effect. One of the most famous is the 200 year-old ‘Horchatería Santa Catalina’ opposite the bell tower of the Santa Catalina church, tucked away just off the corner of the Plaza de la Reina.
If you want to go to the real home of horchata take the short trip out by bus or metro to Alboraya, which skirts the city to the North West. The place is like an horchata theme park with huge palatial horchaterías all along the main street. The jewel in the crown being Horchatería Daniel named after its founder Daniel Tortajada, the most famous “orxater” of them all.
He started off with a small bar in the centre of the village before moving to the present vast hall serving, along with the horchata, all manner of ice creams and sweet cakes all made on the premises. Most Valencians enjoy a good farton with their horchata, a long sausage shaped sweet bun covered in icing. Apart from having a name that cries out for infantile jokes, it’s perfect for dunking into your drink.
Horchatería Daniel has served horchatas to Kings, princes, writers and stars of stage and screen. The walls are decorated with photos of Daniel with football stars and the likes of writer Camila José Cela and painter Salvador Dalí. Ernest Hemingway also came here but refused to drink horchata and had a glass of wine instead…
David Rhead and José Marín
Avd. de la Horchata 41, 46120 Alboraia (Valencia)
Tel: 961 858 866
Mercado Colon, C/ Jorge Juan, 19 46004 Valencia
Tel:963 519 891
Horchatería Santa Catalina
Plaza Santa Catalina
Tel: 96 391 23 79
Zona Centro Historico