I got to know María Arlandis through our shared love for Valencia on Instagram. And when we met in person, we instantly clicked.
Born and raised in Valencia, Spain, she works as a Spanish language teacher (she even wrote a book on Spanish slang phrases!) and whenever there is a chance to explore a new place Maria signs up without thinking twice.
I was really curious to learn about her perspective on Valencia as a native, and when she came back from her trip to Morocco we met up in the beautiful Monforte gardens for an informal interview.
I have to ask you… Paella de marisco [seafood paella] or paella valenciana [Valencian paella with chicken and rabbit]?
And what’s your favorite food? And please don’t say what I already think you are going to say, because we know you are a Valencian…
– Ummm.. Sorry to disappoint you, but yes – I think my favorite food is paella! I know, it’s very predictable… What’s funny is that my second favorite is arroz a banda [seafood rice typical of the coast in Alicante province].
You see, my father’s family is from the province of Alicante, from the town of Javea to be exact. My grandfather worked as a fisherman there, so he knew exactly how to cook this dish the proper way. That is, he cooked the seafood with the potatoes and other ingredients first to make stock, and then he cooked the rice in it.
If you order arroz a banda at a restaurant nowadays, you are served a shallow and wide pan of mostly just rice. Traditionally though the other part of the dish served along with the rice was all that seafood used in the stock, that is so yummy.
Wow.. you really make me want to try the traditional version! On to the next… If you could choose to have anything right now, what would you opt for?
Well you know, I am craving Indian food right now. I haven’t had it for a while… I love Indian!
A smell that is your sensory memory from childhood?
The smell of the rabbit meat being fried over wood fire for paella.
Do you remember your first restaurant experience?
I am trying to remember… I think it was right there in Javea, at my parents’ anniversary celebration. A typical restaurant on the coast that specializes in rice, big enough for large groups and celebrations. I was 5 years old and I remember how excited I was – it seemed to be the best day of my life then!
Another place I remember that my parents took me to at 5 or 6 years of age was in Barcelona. The waiter asked if I wanted to check out the kid’s menu. And I said:”Of course, not! I am going to have seafood!” And I ordered espardenyas [sea cucumber – a type of marine animal with leathery skin]. Needless to say, being such a little girl, everyone was blown away. My dad tells me the people around me were really impressed with such an exotic choice.
I bet they were impressed! That thing looks like a worm… What a curious kid you were! Clearly, it must have been that curiosity that has translated into this avid traveller you are today… And which restaurant would you come back to over and over again?
There are many, really. I would really like to go back to a restaurant in Dharamsala – that’s the city in India where the Dalai Lama lives. I was visiting with a friend and we went to this amazing Japanese restaurant… It was all vegetarian, of course. I remember vividly how good the food was… And the prices were ridiculous – for one or two euro we got to enjoy super delicious things.
What is your favorite thing to drink and what was the last thing you drank?
Oh! It’s great you asked me, because I have just discovered an amazing chai latte with a dash of rum at La Manera Coffee & Cocktails…
Apart from coffee, I really enjoy mojito and piña colada! I have an inkling for the exotic tastes… But I also love craft beer! Luckily in Valencia there are many great options now. Even Hennessy’s and Zeta, Blue Moon… There are many excellent brands available.
Which is your favorite place for coffee in Valencia?
Bluebell Coffee – love it. And Retrogusto at the Central Market is really good.
The best dish that you can cook?
I would say, my lasagne. I like the lighter version – instead of using lasagne sheets I use thinly sliced zucchini. And when I have time (which is almost never!), I even make the tomato sauce myself. And I substitute meat for chicken.
Is there a movie or a book that makes you hungry?
The movie “Eat. Pray.Love” makes me superhungry!
Which is a corner of Valencia that you would say everyone has to see at least once?
Easy! The place between the Silk Exchange and the Central Market… It’s perfect. Because both are must-visits in Valencia. The Silk Exchange being definitely underrated… More people should know about this architectural gem. It’s my favorite building in the whole city! The spiral columns remind me of palm trees. And the inner orange tree patio with Moorish motives is to die for… I wish more people got to know it!
I totally agree… It’s such a unique place. Talking about tourists, what aspect of Spain do tourists get wrong in your opinion?
I dislike the fact that people picture Spaniards as being lazy.. taking a nap every day. It’s just not true.
If you go to a shop in Spain and it’s closed between 2 and 5 pm, it’s not because they are sleeping. The employees need to take a break, otherwise they would have to work 12 hour days.. That would actually be illegal.
If you could only recommend one day trip from Valencia, where would that be?
Hands down, Lake Albufera. It’s such a relaxing place and it’s so emblematic of Valencia, with its rice paddies!
Which is the your preferred beach in the Valencian Community?
It’s a little secret place of mine, do I really have to share? (laughs).. Malvarrosa de Corinto, located in Almardá near Sagunto. Turquoise water, pebbles and there is a really good restaurant right on the beach!
Your top three reasons to visit Valencia are…
300 days of sun a year is a really good reason. The food, definitely. And parties. In Spain Valencia is considered a party central! Just look at Umbracle dance club… It’s amazing.
What is your dream destination to visit?
Japan. I have practised Judo for 10 years and… I love sushi!
Where are you going on a trip next?
Marseille… I have a friend who lives there and before she moves back to Spain I want to take advantage of having a local show me this intriguing city!
If you could choose any place to live, where would that be and why?
Honestly? Valencia. I lived in Paris, Copenhagen and New York, and to me – the best life quality is in Valencia. It’s not as expensive and not as touristy as Madrid and Barcelona. This city has everything to make you happy!
Follow Maria on Instagram at @paradisecollector and read about her stories on her travel blog To Travel Is To Live. If you are learning Spanish, check out resources available on Maria’s Learn Spanish Slang portal. And if you want to explore the option of Spanish classes, just get in touch with Maria via maria.arlandis at gmail.com