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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Basque Tasting

Taste of Basque

After spending 6 days in and around San Sebastian and the neighbouring area, it is very clear that a lot of people in the Basque region really care about their food. Some obviously obsess about it. We decided we should live here soon after arriving.

Lesson learnt about Basque cooking: Quality of ingredients really is paramount! Such a simple and obvious approach to food but often over quoted and under adhered to. This, matched with thoughtful cooking and well executed flavour combinations is the basis of good food. Add some love and your onto a winner. There was certainly an abundance of this in San Sebastian.

Our first day involved a Pinxto tour around the old town with a brilliant guide called Lourdes. She took us to 6 (or 7) different bars, each with its own speciality dish & drink to accompany that clearly the tourists wouldn't know to order from the Euskara & Spanish menus. We started with prawns with a delightful sweet and sour relish of peppers, tomato, onion and garlic. An enlivening opener that was executed perfectly, the balance of flavours was spot on and the local Txatkali wine was light and aerated thanks to its pouring from a height, a style that continued from bar to bar. We also had a plate of pardon peppers and chillies, fried in olive oil with flakes of sea salt, simple, fresh and occasionally fiery! 

I could very easily list every dish, bar and drink and talk about them animatedly on length but will resist and simply mention a few highlights: Pigs ear, braised and crisped on a bed of pumpkin puree. Textually this was awesome with the skin, fat and cartilage all playing a part and the sweetness of the pumpkin cutting straight down the middle of the all the rich pig eared goodness.  Patatas bravas, a dish often reproduced on these shores, was served very simple with warm mayonnaise and a light tomato and pepper sauce, very different to all previous attempts I'd tasted but a clear winner. This was matched with some delicious mussels with pepper sauce, fresh calamari and local cider with random heavy metal music playing in what would appear to the untrained eye to be a basic fish n chip shop. The locals knew and we soon realised it was anything but.

Slivers of beef with Ribera Del Duera, slow braised pork rib, Ox cheek in wine, Orso with Idiazabel, a local cheese, and then twice baked cheesecakes which were a delightful way to finish off the tour, served with a glass of Pedro Ximenez. I was literally aching for more of both but felt slightly glutinous in front of the rest of the group, damn my British politeness!

The tour was awesome, a great introduction to Basque food and culture. I loved the way that in every bar we went in we had food and drink. The two have gone hand in hand for ever for good reason. Could we Brits ever really embrace this at home though? There has been a resurgence of bar snacks such as pork pies and sausage rolls.... you never know! Many thanks to Lourdes and Eli from San Sebastian Food, both of you are amazing and lovely people Es horresa gatik!

Below are a selection of photos from some of the amazing places we went to, notably an amazing fish restaurant in San Juan, a small island near San Sebastian, and Zuberoa, a michelin starred restaurant out near the national forest. Here we ate some amazing fish, definitely a favourite in this coastal region, with textures, flavours, ingredients and visuals that made us smile widely. A favourite was definitely the spider crab with sea urchin and fennel foam. Or the scallop with endive and marmalade. Or the hake, or the.....

We left the Basque region after a day spent in the David Hockney exhibition in Bilbao (amazing) and headed home, full of ideas and inspiration for the Taste of Basque banquet we had planned for the end of June. This is the next dining experience we have planned so I have suspicions that it is gonna be tasty. If you have any questions about any of the places we went, or food we ate please just ask as I have notebooks full of pages of my scrawl with some rather dodgy sketches of dishes!


ps. If you are interested in attending the Taste of Basque banquet please get in touch soon as the places are limited.