As a region with such a rich and strong culture, it should come as no surprise that food is an incredibly significant part of life in the Basque Country.
The world is beginning to recognise how influential the cuisine here is. San Sebastian alone has eleven Michelin-starred restaurants, but there are culinary delights to be found everywhere in the area.
If you are travelling to the Basque Country and are wondering what wonderful dishes are on offer, here are some you should definitely try.
A popular snack across the whole of the Basque country, particularly in San Sebastian, it is essential to try pintxos when travelling in the region. The name translates as ‘spike’ which refers to the toothpicks used to hold the dish together.
Pintxos consists of small pieces of bread topped with a variety of ingredients such as goat’s cheese, stuffed peppers, croquettes and an array of fish including hake, cod and anchovy.
The toothpick is then speared through them before they are laid out on bars for you to take your pick. You then keep the toothpicks and count them up at the end as they act as your bill.
Bacalao al pil-pil
Seafood features heavily in the Basque diet – the region does, after all, have 200 kilometres of coastline – and salt cod is a firm favourite. One of the many salt cod dishes that feature on the Basque menus is bacalao pil-pil, a simple combination of cod, garlic, chilli and olive oil.
The ingredients are fried together in a pan, slowly shaken, so the oil from the cod merges with the olive oil to create a creamy emulsion, which is the perfect sauce accompaniment. It may be simple, but bacalao al pil-pil tastes absolutely delicious.
Along with salt cod, squid is also particularly popular in the Basque Country. Txipirones is a dish where the squid is cooked in its own ink.
Baby squid is typically used, which is first coated with flour and then fried. The sauce is prepared by pureeing onions, tomatoes, bread crumbs and white wine before mixing in the squid ink.
The baby squid is then placed in the pot and cooked again until the sauce thickens. It might seem like a dish only for the most adventurous of foodies; however, if you would like a quintessential taste of the Basque Country, this is a great dish to try.
There are a few stews in the Basque culinary repertoire and marmitako is undoubtedly one of the best. The name literally means ‘pot’ or ‘casserole’, derived from the French ‘marmite’ meaning a metal pot with a lid.
The two main ingredients are tuna and potatoes, combined with green and red peppers, onions, tomatoes, garlic and olive oil to create this truly tasty and hearty dish.
Bacalao a la Vizcaina
Another gastronomic delight made with salt cod, bacalao a la Vizcaina derives its name from the area of the Basque Country from where it originated, the Vizcaya province. Bilbao is the state capital of this province.
The salt cod is cooked in Vizcaina sauce, which is a red sauce made from tomatoes, onions, garlic and roasted red peppers. Historically it was eaten at Easter but now is enjoyed at any time of the year.
Seafood is not just about fish in the Basque Country. Txangurro is the Basque word for spider crab, and they certainly know how to prepare it.
First, the crab is boiled in salt water, after which it is stuffed with a variety of vegetables and herbs such as onions, leeks, tomatoes and parsley. A splash of brandy goes on to add more flavour before the crab is covered by breadcrumbs. It is then put in the oven for baking and finally served in its shell.
Alubias de Tolosa
Seafood and fish may be extremely popular in the Basque Country, but there are plenty of other dishes to try if you fancy something different. One of these is Alubius de Tolosa.
Alubias is a type of bean which is found all over Spain, and it is typical to use them in a variety of stews. However, the beans in Alubias de Tolosa – named after the town the dish comes from, Tolosa – are of a particular reddy-black colour which makes them particularly well-known.
The beans are cooked in a broth with onions, olive oil and salt. Many people also add additional extras such as morcillo (black pudding), pork, peppers and chilli. The beans from Tolosa are of such importance to the local people that they even hold an annual festival to celebrate them.
Basque-style Lamb Stew
Lots of Spanish people in the north of the country enjoy eating lamb, and this particular lamb stew is a favourite among those in the Basque Country.
Like in many Basque dishes, the sauce is made from red peppers and tomatoes, but red wine, paprika and parsley are also added. Before being added to the sauce, the lamb is marinated in white wine, garlic, cloves and rosemary and then cooked.
Patatas con chorizo
Patatas con chorizo is pretty much explanatory. The main ingredients are potatoes and chorizo. It may seem that the dish is famous across the whole of Spain, and you are correct in thinking that.
Patatas con chorizo originates from La Rioja, which borders the Basque Country. Due to their close geographical proximity, the dish is incredibly popular in the Basque region nowadays. Moreover, the potatoes, chorizo, peppers, garlic, onion and paprika are also used in the area to create a type of delicious stew.
If looking for a dessert that is slightly more indulgent, you should try torrijas. The best way of describing torrijas is as a Basque version of French toast.
In order to cook a torrijas, brioche-type bread is soaked in milk and egg before being fried and then covered in a cinnamon and orange flavoured syrup.
A lovely simple cake to finish a meal with, pastel vasco can either be spongy or slightly crunchy. It is filled with pastry cream and occasionally fruit. There are different versions of this dessert, and each bakery will usually add their own twist to pastel vasco.
About the Author: Alexandra is a travel designer and blogger based in Lisbon, Portugal. Head to her site Hortense Travel to get some freebies to help you plan your trip to Spain, Portugal, Italy and more.