Or should I say Ongi Etorri Euskal herria! I arrived in beautiful Basque Country about two weeks ago and boy do I have a lot to tell you! I arrived in rainy San Sebastian after an exhausting flight and was greeted at the airport by two Basque Stage organizers Marti and Andoni. After a short ride to my flat in Lasarte, I met my fellow Sammic Scholar and roommate for the next three months, Clifton Su. Then it was off to bed to get some much-needed rest!
The following day Cliff and I were to meet our Basque Stage peeps Marti, Andoni, Nacho, and Xavier in the city of San Sebastian, the capital of Gipuzkoa, most known for its beautiful La Concha beach and the Txikiteo (pintxos crawl). Let me just briefly explain this Txikiteo concept. It’s probably the best thing ever invented. Pintxos, or pinchos, are small bites of food, sometimes skewered with a toothpick (hence pintxo), sometimes served on bread or a small plate, and can be served room temp or hot. All the bars have their selection of pintxos displayed from one end of the bar to the other. Hungry patrons peruse the counter and chose whichever pintxo catches their eye, right from the serving platter. The selection of hot pintxos aren’t displayed but can be ordered as well. The bartender doesn’t keep track, you just let him know what you ordered at the end of your meal. I love that they go off the honor system. It says a lot about the people. One or two pintxos later and its off to the next bar. Who has the best pintxos? That’s probably the number one topic of conversation, but it’s an impossible question to answer. There are hundreds of pintxos bars in San Sebastian and the Basque region in general. But it’s one tasty endeavor I’m willing to pursue!
My very first pintxos experience was at Casa Senra. Omg so damn good. We had the fried baby calamari which were perfectly cooked, croquetas, and my all time favorite pintxo to date, Txampi con Foie y suave aioli. It’s a deliciously rich button mushroom topped with foie gras, blanketed with a smooth aioli and drizzled with parsley oil and a balsamic reduction. Oh and how could I forget the bread to sop up all the good stuff.
Pintxos are not complete without a glass of cold Txakoli, which is a Basque white wine that’s slightly carbonated. It’s similar to a Portuguese Vinho Verde but less sweet, less fizzy with an almost salty quality. After Casa Senra we headed to cerveceria Never Stop. I’m not much of a beer connoisseur but Clifton had a field day! They had a very wide selection of craft beers from all over the world and the owner/bartender was super knowledgeable and passionate. It’s a cool little spot.
Our last stop of the night was sidreria Iruin Astiazaran Sagardotegia. Cider has a long-standing history in Basque culture and lucky for us it’s cider season! It’s made from several different apple varietals, is still rather than sparkling, and has a 4-6% alcohol content. It’s got a tangy, almost cheesy quality. They serve the cider straight from HUGE barrels that line the walls of the cider house.
Every so often someone yells out “TXOTX” which means get your ass up, we’re about to open the tap on a new barrel. The technique to filling you’re cup is very important. You have to hold your cup as low as possible and move it up the stream of ever flowing cider, with the next person following quickly behind. The key is to aerate the cider a bit and pour in just enough to drink within a few minutes. It’s a constant getting up to refill your glass and sitting down to have a few bites of food, then back up to the barrels, and so on. The best part is its one flat rate per person for food and as much cider as you’d like.
The menu is pretty standard at all cider houses. We had some chorizo, a tortilla de bacalao, bacalao in a traditional red pepper sauce, and bacalao with green peppers. The star of the meal was the Txuleta which is a huge slab of beef cooked by the grill master.
For dessert, Idiazabal cheese, quince marmalade and whole walnuts. There are no plates, everyone eats from the platter the food came on, using a piece of bread as a vessel. At the end of our meal the table was laden with bread crumbs, walnut shells and meat scraps. I would say that’s a good sign.
Delicious food and great people. Not too bad for my first full day in Pais Vasco.