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The Spanish port city of Alicante — brightly colored, palm tree-studded, and home to one of Europe’s largest film studios — could be considered Spain’s Hollywood. But underneath the glitz of new construction and oversized sunglasses, there’s a solid core of traditional Mediterranean Spain: a visit to the city reveals bullfights, vibrant markets, sleepy residential streets, and pirate-defense towers, with the gothic castle of Santa Barbara looming over all from its mountaintop perch. Dabney Gough, a Honolulu-based writer who lived in Alicante during the summer of 2010, takes us on a tour of the twelve stops essential for a culinarily-minded visitor.

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Dozen1

Ice Cream Stalls on the Esplanade
It’s fitting that balmy Alicante boasts a thriving community of artisanal ice cream producers. The black- and red-marble esplanade that leads to the city beach is dotted with stands offering scoops of regionally inspired flavors, such as Malaga wine with raisins, cream with pine nuts, and my favorite, turron ice cream.

Dozen2

Bullfighting Beef at the Market
Alicante is one of the best places in Spain to experience bullfighting – as a spectator, yes, but also as an eater. After each fight in the Plaza de Toros, the slain bulls are skinned and gutted on site, and a few weeks later the meat is sold at the historic Mercado Central. The bull is surprisingly tender, and has the intense, meaty flavor of grass-fed beef.

La Casqueria meat shop
Stall 71 in the Central Market
tel: 965 21 1957

Dozen3

Turron
You can find a Turron shop on almost every corner in Alicante, offering endless varieties of the almond, honey, and egg white confection. Some of the best brands, like Primitivo Rovira e Hijos, are only available around Christmas. For year-round turron, I like A. Monerris Sirvent, whose kiosk is just outside of the Mercado Central and is manned by the turron maker himself.

A. Monerris Sirvent
_ Central Market_
_ tel: 965 21 7535_

Dozen4

Taberna del Gourmet
It’s hard to go wrong at the Taberna, voted the Best Tapas Bar in Spain at the 2009 Congress of Lo Mejor de la Gastronomia. If you don’t have the time to work your way through the entire menu, the impeccably fresh seafood offerings are the real winners. I’m a particular fan of the rape a la espalda, a whole monkfish partially filleted off the backbone and roasted with garlic, and the battered and fried bacalao topped with an intense tomato sauce.

La Taberna del Gourmet
Calle San Fernando, 10

tel: 965 20 4233

Dozen5

Katagorri
If your travels don’t lead you up to the Basque country, a meal at Katagorri is the next best thing. Sidle up to the sleek bar for a glass of effervescent txakoli wine accompanied by salty pintxos like crispbread topped with green apple, foie gras, and chutney, or a skewer of potato and tender octopus with pimenton cream. Even the humble tortilla is thoughtfully elevated with a garnish of crisp fried parsnip and an asterisk-like squiggle of romesco sauce.

Katagorri
Rambla Mendez Nuñez, 35

tel: 965 15 317

Dozen6

La Sidreria Escondida
It’s all about the delivery method at the Sidreria Escondida, which serves ciders using the traditional Asturian method. After your bottle is inverted into a freestanding, wheeled pourer next to your table, your glass goes into the holder several feet below. Press the button and watch the stream of cider arc down into the glass. The process gives the cider a little extra frothiness, and many say the aeration improves the flavor.

La Sidreria Escondida
Plaza San Cristobal, 8

tel: 965 20 3193

Dozen7

Tasca El Coscorron
I found this bar on the recommendation of my husband’s uncle Kevin, which was lucky considering that it has no website, the sign is halfheartedly lit, and the entrance huddles below street level. Don’t let the seemingly unwelcoming exterior deter you: the moody ambiance and the mojitos are worth it. Watch your head as you enter: the mid-staircase doorway is only three-quarter height.

Tasca El Coscorron
Calle Tarifa, 3

no telephone

Dozen8

La Creme Bakery
I always have room in my stomach for the mini sandwiches, or montaditos, sold at La Creme bakery. Made on slender loaves no wider than two fingers, the Lilliputian nibbles feature various fillings including ham, olives, sheep’s milk cheese, and sobrasada, a spreadable cured pork delicacy from Mallorca. During the annual week-long Santo Joan fiesta in late June, they also offer coca amb tonyina, a savory pastry filled with onions and cured tuna; it’s the perfect sustenance for the all-night parties and bonfires that mark the festival.

La Creme
Calle Teatro, 1

tel: 965 21 3380

Dozen9

Torreblanca Pasteleria
Pastry chef Paco Torreblanca has been called “the great father of modern Spanish confectionary,” and it shows in everything he does, from his fantastical cakes to the jewelry-worthy gilt boxes they come in. The confections are literally fit for a king: Torreblanca was selected to make the cake for Prince Felipe of Asturias’ royal wedding in 2004. All of the bite-sized cakes are incredible, but I adored the elegant damablanca, a tubular sheath of white chocolate filled with white chocolate mousse and cubes of raspberry gelee.

Torreblanca Pasteleria
Avenida Oscar Espla, 30

tel: 965 98 5889

Dozen10

La Barrita de Gabi
Honey and goat cheese frequently go together in these parts, but the Barrita de Gabi has come up with one of the best pairings: thin-sliced, delicately fried eggplant is drizzled with meltingly warm fresh goat cheese and golden local honey. A worthy follow-up is the blood sausage-studded arroz con costra, a savory cross between paella and a souffle.

La Barrita de Gabi
Calle de Valdes, 1

no telephone

Dozen11

La Granadina
This is my one-stop shop for edible souvenirs: tins of anchovies, Marcona almonds still in the shell, fruity eaux de vie, and other local and imported spirits. Be sure to pick up a bottle of the Casta Diva Alicante Muscat, a light dessert wine with notes of honey, the most famous of the city’s many local wines.

La Granadina
Calle de Girona, 7
tel: 965 21 1151

Dozen12

La Barra de Cesar Anca
For diners who want to dip their toes into molecular gastronomy, La Barra is a great place to start. In addition to classic Spanish dishes, the menu offers many moderna items that are original without veering too much into the weird. The “false tomato,” a star of the menu, is a reworked caprese: tomato-spiked goat cheese mousse ensconced in a frozen basil puree shell.

La Barra de Cesar Anca
Plaza Gabriel Miro

tel: 965 20 1580

DozenHotel

Where to Stay
The Hospes Amerigo, built in the cloister of a former Dominican convent, is Alicante’s finest hotel. With two restaurants and a rooftop lounge, not to mention its perfectly central location, it’s an ideal home base for exploring Valencia.

Hospes Amerigo
Rafael Altamira, 7

tel. 965 146 570

Interactive Map: Dabney Gough’s Alicante Dozen

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Dabney Gough is a food writer based in Honolulu, Hawai’i. In the summer of 2010, she spent two months living in Alicante, Spain, where she fell in love with bullfighting, faba beans, leisurely lunches, and espadrilles (among other things). Dabney is co-author of “The Bi-Rite Market Guide to Shopping and Cooking,” to be published by Ten Speed Press in 2011.

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