Traveling makes me hungry. Fortunately, here in the Basque Country, they are known for having the finest cuisine in Spain. With the freshest seafood, ripe market produce, and sumptuous snacks served in local eateries, gastronomic societies, and Michelin-Star restaurants, it is not hard to find something good to eat.
The restaurants in nearby San Sebastian boast more Michelin Stars per capita than any other place in the world. With my hearty appetite and tasting menus starting around $100 per person, we skipped these star joints and went straight for the standard Basque fare.
Instead of cleansing my palate between courses, I prefer to power-wash it with a cold beer or an economical local wine. In the Basque Country, the refreshing beverage of choice is txakoli (cha-koh-lee), where the sweet grapes for next year’s vintage are now ripe and ready for harvest.
Txakoli is an acidic white wine, typically aged about four months, and poured from a height into a glass to release its natural effervescence. It pairs nicely with fish as well as the countless variety of snack foods called pintxos (peen-choz) served at every local bar.
Pintxos are inspired Basque appetizers fastened to a slice of bread with a long toothpick. Stacked on top of the bar, you help yourself, and pay later for what you eat. Since each bar has its own specialties, you usually have one or two pintxos and a drink standing at the bar, and then move on to the next place.
This Basque version of the pub crawl explodes on a weekly basis during pintxo-pote. Every Thursday evening for about two hours, bars advertise a pintxo and an alcoholic beverage of your choice (pote) for a steeply discounted price of about €2 (US$2.30).
Like anywhere else in the world, the finest meals always start with the best ingredients. At farmer’s markets throughout the Basque Country, we found garden-fresh produce, quality cured meats, and Idiazábal, a handmade raw sheep’s milk cheese with a smoky flavor derived from the shepherd’s campfire.
All along the Basque Coast, freshly caught seafood is also harvested just offshore. For the main meal of the day, served between 2:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon, most restaurants offer a fixed price Menú del Día (menu of the day). These economical three-course meals include a bottle of wine and frequently present a choice of local sea bream, halibut, cod, or hake.
Hake was also on the menu when our Airbnb host invited us to cook with them one evening at their local gastronomic society. Historically all-male, but now open to women membership, these private cooking associations have fully equipped professional kitchens and are often frequented by celebrated neighborhood chefs.
Although void of Michelin stars, these culinary clubs are known for being the best places in the Basque Country for an authentic dining experience. For us, it was a chance to combine fresh local ingredients, enjoy a traditional meal, and satisfy our hunger to learn more about the Basque Country and the finest cuisine in Spain.
Feature Image: Traditional Basque pastries and espresso coffee