Obviously, there are no street festivities without street food. Valencian Fallas is not an exception – stalls and tents serving typical local food are lining downtown streets. Interestingly, however, among all kinds of food, it is not the famous paella that plays the main role in feeding hungry crowds (as most of us will expect). Offered delicacies are clearly dominated by two traditional Valencian sweet treats: Buñuelos de calabaza and Churros.
While you can find them in many Valencian pastry shops throughout the year, they get their truly unique flavor when mixed with Fallas ambiance on the streets, with air saturated with Mascletas’ and firecrackers gunpowder as well as filled with vibrant rhythms of swarming bands of drummers….
Throughout the period of Fallas, you will find these freshly made sweets on almost every corner. You will also quickly find that they are almost irresistible, so here is some advice for every “healthy food” conscious visitor: well, what the heck – Fallas happens only once a year and ONLY in Valencia, so you may not find another such opportunity in your life! And if this is not a convincing argument then remember – after all, you are on a “Holiday Diet”! BTW – keep in mind that Valencian buñuelos and churros are still much healthier than most other internationally famous street food!
Buñuelos of Fallas
Buñuelos are spongy, donuts-type dough fritters. Historically they are the “fruit” of combined Moors and Spanish culinary traditions (so pretty much have millennium-old roots). Here, it may be worth mentioning that Mexican (and in general Latin-American) buñuelos that many Americans are familiar with are totally different “animals”. In their most popular form, we know them as crispy, thin, sweet tortilla cookies usually sprinkled with cinnamon, sugar and served with honey.
Valencian buñuelos come in many forms and flavors, with dough based on sweet potatoes or pumpkin, sometimes filled with cream, fruits, or chocolate. But they all share a common characteristic – they are deep-fried in oil (hence their common name “fritters”). For example, “Buñuelos de Cuaresma” (Lenten Fritters) are popular Valencian sweets served during the Holy Week (see à Valencian Easter Sweets). Buñuelos served during Fallas festivities are quite distinctive. First of all, they are all made in front of you on the street so practically you can follow the whole process starting from making the dough (usually kneaded by hand) to the final step when golden-browned, they are “fished” out hot from the oil. In their most popular form, they are made from pumpkin-based dough hence their name “Buñuelos de Calabaza” (Valenciono: “Bunyols de carabassa” or English: Pumpkin fritters). Their main ingredients include cooked pumpkin mixed in almost equal proportions with wheat flour, a small amount of sugar (mostly for sprinkling), milk (or water), egg, baking, and cinnamon powders as well as flavor-braking lemon zest.
When ready, buñuelos de calabaza are resembling bite-size versions of donuts – in other words, slightly uneven rings with clear holes at the center. In practice, however, they can take the form of irregular, elongated balls, or will be simply randomly shaped. It all depends on the skills, patience, and dedication of a “bunyoler” (a guy picking-up by hands small portions of the dough and throwing them into the boiling oil). But the good news is – regardless of the shape, they all taste great (expect a warm, soft. fluffy consistency with an oily, sweet taste).
For enhanced culinary sensation buñuelos de calabaza are sprinkled with sugar and served with a cup of hot, rich-in-flavor, thick chocolate. With the final ingredient in the form of characteristic for Valencian Fallas’ street ambiance, it will be a mouth-watering fiesta that you can experience any time during the day till deep night (interestingly – some consider buñuelos as a good hangover cure!).
Traditionally, churros are made from the wheat-based dough (very rarely you can find churros made from sweet-potatoes-based dough). Similarly buñuelos, churros belong to the family of deep-fried fritters. In contrast to buñuelos however, they have very regular geometry defined by a “churros’ pipe” (sort of pastry bag) – traditionally coming in the form of long plain sticks sometimes looped in a form of a large raindrop. Usually, they are served “raw” (golden-browned in oil, but without any extras) accompanied only by a cup of hot, creamy chocolate milk for dipping.
In their more elaborated versions, churros are coated with white or dark chocolate or glazed with thick layer of sugar. These days you can also find “thick” versions of churros in form of tubes stuffed with cream – they are called “porras”. They look similar to famous Sicilian cannoli, but that’s all they have in common!
Churros main ingredients include wheat flower, water, sugar (for sprinkling when taken out of the oil), baking powder and a bit of olive oil (on top of that needed for frying).
There is no clear agreement regarding the origin of churros, some believe they represent the mixture of Arabic (Moors) and native Iberian culinary traditions, but some claim that they are rather a Central-American culinary achievement. Unlike in the case of buñuelos, there is little difference between Spanish and Mexican churros. They have similar geometrical form, and only slightly differ in composition of ingredients: the latter include egg and butter, more sugar and are often dusted with cinnamon. Also, Spanish “porras” seem to have their incarnations in South and Latin Americas (for those familiar with the matter it wouldn’t be surprising to find that the Spanish filling cream is replaced by the South-American delicacy – dulce de leche).
In Spain, churros are enjoyed throughout the year, be it for breakfast or as an afternoon snack. But as in the case of buñuelos, the period of Valencian Fallas takes the whole culinary experience to very different level and frankly, unrepeatable at home.
So what about Fallas?
Fallas is a very unique and exceptional festivity native to Valencia. Unique, because with its roots and tradition reaching a few hundred years back, the concept of Fallas never spread beyond the city walls (as we will say these days, it was not commercialized, although it got noticed by UNESCO). It is exceptional because on top of combining traditions of Valencian guilds (spring “clean-up”) with religious accents (commemoration of the patron of Valencia San Jose and veneration of Virgin Mary of Desamparados) it has also a deep foundation in local communities gathering throughout the whole year in laborious and often costly preparations for the next period of festivities. From the foreigners’ point of view, the Fallas also have strong accents of let’s say it – “madness” (for the lack of a more descriptive word). Just to make it clear – in this context “madness” has a truly warm connotation expressing an admiration rather than lunacy 😊.
It’s hard to describe in a few words, individual perception of Fallas’ “madness”. Let’s start with the fact that an enormous amount of work dedicated by Valencian communities of falleros and falleras to make live-size Niñots (sort of puppets) as well as numerous gigantic statues assembled on the streets “at the end of the day” goes up in smoke on bonfires. And let’s be honest, most of them are truly objects of art and certainly of imagination. Add to that La Despertà (morning “wake-up calls” in the form of fire-cracking you can hear throughout the city), thunderous Mascletas (afternoon cannonades at the central plaza), Castillos (midnight fireworks) not even mentioning crowds swarming the streets (to keep it short)…. Well, as someone rightfully said – Fallas is the Mother of all Celebrations certainly matching (if not exceeding) the famous Carnival in Rio. And while the Fallas’ climax is reached in the last 5 days (March 15-19) ending with La Crema (massive bonfires), the celebrations start on March 1st with the Vertical Mascletà (mind-blowing display of fireworks) followed by La Crida (official inauguration in front of the Serrano Towers). In fact, each and every year the Fallas are writing a great scenario for A. Hitchcock’s movie that typically will start with an earthquake and from then tensions are only rising …..