San Sebastian, the gourmet mecca
Basque cuisine fully reflects the identity of the place. Mountains, which mostly characterize this territory, meet the coast and the ocean, and this union is also reflected in many typically Basque dishes and snacks. Sea ingredients such as anchovies, sardines or tuna are often combined with earth elements, from jamon, smoked bacon, to mushrooms. Geographic proximities of this place are closely tied to this divine combo of flavors.
First stop on our tour of the Basque Country (which you’ll read next week on Kaataa) is Donostia-San Sebastian, emblematic city of Basque cuisine. Driving into the city along the coast road, after a narrow curve, the horizon opens onto the bay of La Concha, the city’s main beach. The view is breathtaking: the mountains on the right close onto the sea, as if to protect and hide this jewel from prying eyes. A boulevard full of pedestrians unfolds along the entire bay, almost to accompany you into discovery of the city. On one hand, the cold, crystalline water of the Bay of Biscay, the golden beach shimmering in the sun, surfers passing by their boards under their arms, families organizing an improvised picnic, backpackers relaxing in the sun, dogs walking, all the while on the other side the city and its buildings varying in traditional and modern styles awaits. A city carefully planned and tailored to its inhabitants as well as visitors.
The Old Town is where you can find the greatest concentration of bars and restaurants that serve pintxos, more or less at any time of the day, though always after 11am because here, as all over Spain, mornings are slow-paced.
So what exactly are pintxos (literally, toothpick food)? Surely you all know tapas, but pintxos are a whole different story. Let’s say that the concept is similar, you can have a pintxo as a mid-morning snack, as a snack or as an aperitif, but unlike tapas, a pintxo is a real miniature dish. The range is very wide, from simple skewers made of anchovies, olives and pickled peppers to pintxos that count up to 6 or 7 distinct ingredients. And it goes beyond that, because San Sebastian cuisine, just like architecture of the city, has managed to combine the deep gastronomic tradition with innovation. Let’s not forget that San Sebastian has the highest concentration of Michelin starred restaurants and chefs per capita in the world! This is partly why pintxos often become real miniature gourmet dishes.
Just to mention a few, there is a pintxo with foie gras, gravy and quince jam, or the one with crispy pig ears with lentil purée and parsley sauce, or crab terrine with pilpil sauce, goat cheese with crispy bacon, sweet pepper and sweet and sour onion jam. Let’s just say that once you find yourself in front of a well-stocked bar, ask for an empty plate and, guided by instinct, choose one or two pintxos. Remember to wash it all down with a small beer, locally called zurito, or a glass of local cider. I can’t forget to mention the local fruity white wine called txakoli (chakoli). Once you’re done, it’s time to change bar and repeat the operation, just as the locals do!
Here is a list of pintxo bars I appreciated most:
La Cucharra de San Telmo (Santa Korda Kalea 4): here you will find real miniature gourmet dishes. Prices range from € 3.5 to € 6 each. Must tries are: foie gras, pig ears, octopus, cod;
Bar Gandarias (31 de Agosto Kalea nr 23): rich variety of excellent pintxos, also very particular. Prices range from € 2.5 to € 4 each. Must tries are: stuffed see urchin, braised meat with sweet and sour onions, goat cheese and jam, pepper and angulas;
Bar Gorriti (San Juan Kalea nr 3): authentic pintxos bar frequented by locals, simple and tasty pintxos at low prices, € 2 each. Must tries are: sandwich with jamon, anchovies and peppers; goat cheese, dried tomatoes, jam and jamon;
Bar Martinez (31 de Agosto Kalea nr 13): nice array of pintxos at fair prices, always frequented by locals and foreigners. Must try: pepper stuffed with tuna.
Mattarelloaway is a project based on cultural-culinary exchange. It is rooted in an idea that knowledge of and understanding between people and their cultures are strongly linked to the typical foods of the area they come from. In other words, Mattarello(a)way is also a discovery journey offering a privileged glimpse at traditional cuisines in a most intimate and authentic way.
The project was founded in 2014 by a dynamic duo consisting of Candida - an itinerant chef and Sanja - a gourmet polyglot.
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