6 November 2013


I love horchata. Most people hate it, I love it. With everyone else around me ordering their coke zeros and una caña, por favor, I go straight for the straw and sup my horchata. Horchata is an over-sweetened drink made of tiger nuts (none the less). It’s sort of an “elephant breath”-coloured drink that is slightly chalky. Not selling it, am I. If you’ve been to Valencia, you may have tried it and even fallen in love with its weird sweetness. If you’ve not been, you may never heard of it. The truth of the matter is, if you’ve been to Spain, it’s more than likely you’ve seen it in a bar somewhere in an over-sized slush puppy machine being constantly stirred and rarely drunk. Right next to the fluorescent blue smurf drink.
Valencia is the capital of horchata. Saying that, actually Alboraya, a small village suburb to the north of Valencia is the epicentre of Spain’s horchata production. A true mecca of tiger nut lovers. It’s not busy. Anyway, it’s here on the outskirts of Valencia, in the fields that start right where the city stops, that the famed tiger nuts are cultivated. Tiger nut fields as far as the eye can see, well, until Alcampo by the motorway. Valencians are very proud of their horchata, even if it’s a Alborayan invention.
The story goes that King Jaume, the king whose name features most frequently on street signs in Valencia, happened to be passing Alcampo and a girl (valencian: chata) handed his majesty a glass of the yet to be named refreshing drink, the monarch took one sip (presumedly through a straw) and declared “this is or (valencian: gold), chata!” I think he liked it. When you’re in Spain next time, go on, risk it, try an horchata (pronounced: or-chat-a). You might like it, probably not enough to shout out “gold!” - that would be weird, but you never know.
The last time I went to Valencia I noticed a lot more pop-out horchata stalls (how very trending!). At every tourist site we were greeted by fake rustic ladies presumedly in their tiger-nut-harvesting frocks trying to get us to sample their chilled horchata. Strangely though, not one of them asked us if we wanted to try their horchata, instead they had obviously all been told to ask people if they wanted to try a tiger nut. A hard shrivelled up old bean. As a marketing ploy, I can’t see that being over-successful, to be honest. Crunching on a dried up nut and then thinking, oh I’ll have to try an horchata now. But fair enough, trying to engage people into a conversation about the grey concoction was a way of breaking the horchata ice. I thought they were going to rip me off, so I instead headed for the horchata ice lolly dispensing machine (yes, they exist!). Lovely and no gritty bits of tiger nut in your teeth. A win-win. In fact, horchata is the way ahead as they are traditionally eaten with a sponge pastry known as a “farton”, so there’s comedy value, too.

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