The Basque Country is known for being a gastronomic hotbed, with one of the highest concentrations of Michelin-starred restaurants. We wanted to try a variety of typical Basque cooking as well as other well-reputed restaurants in the city, and were certainly not disappointed. Of course, in a trip as short as 48 hours, we were under some serious time constraints but we still tasted some delicious food during our short stay – enough to whet the appetite for a second visit! So, here’s a comprehensive guide to what we ate:
Pintxos – Bardulia
Pintxos (or pinchos) are popular in several Spanish regions including the Basque country, and they are really one of the things that you should try before leaving! The streets, especially in the old town, are lined with pintxo bars with counters laden with these small tapas-like dishes of all kinds, offering meat, fish, cheese, piquillo peppers, croquettes – you name it! In most of these places, you simply grab a plate, choose the pintxos you want to eat and your plate gets weighed and priced accordingly at the till. My plate, consisting of two crab pintxos, an octopus tentacle and a ham and cheese croquette cost about 8 euros but prices vary. The word “pincho” means “thorn” or “spike” and you’ll often see a little wooden stick poking out of the dish – in Barcelona these were used to count how many you had eaten so you could be charged afterwards! With pintxo bars, either do your research before as there are so many options or simply see what takes your fancy as you wander.
Basque Cuisine – Sidrería Beharria
Basque cuisine is full of rich, seafood flavours and I’m so glad we were able to try a full meal on our first day, paying a visit to Sidrería Beharria in the old town. We came across it whilst wandering and were certainly not disappointed. Offering a three-course meal with bread, wine (if two people got the same wine, you got a whole bottle!) and water for around 16 euros at lunchtime, it was a bargain. I began with an amazing savoury mille-feuille of aubergine, flaked cod and tomato and cream sauces which was absolutely delicious: it looked beautiful and the salty cod blended perfectly with the creamy aubergine and sauces. Moving on, we had to go for a seafood dish given the proximity to the sea! Toulouse is SUCH a meat-filled city so it was nice to have a break. Me and some friends went for the grilled squid dish with pickled vegetables. I must admit, it does always slightly perplex me when Spanish restaurants serve mains without any sides on the plate, but it was true here that the squid was perfect how it was, although a sautéed potato probably wouldn’t have gone amiss. Dessert was a rich but simple chocolate tart for a perfect end to the meal, and I would definitely go back, if not only to get another bottle of the delicious white wine that was included in the meal.
Vegetarian & Vegan – Tedone Jatatxea
I’m trying to branch out with my restaurant choices and try new things, diets and concepts. This began properly in Barcelona and continued recently with a visit to vegan-friendly Palm Vaults in London. Tedone Jatatxea is a wonderful restaurant serving healthy and almost-completely vegan dishes, simply offering one seafood and one meat main for the real carnivores. Almost every other dish is free from dairy, meat and fish and it was a great way to try something new. The more vegan food I try, the more I realise the care that goes into the choice of ingredients, especially when replacing common dairy foods. Although I would find it difficult to cook vegan alternatives for myself, I am never against visiting a vegan restaurant.
We were immediately brought homemade bread and humous to start, followed by a main dish of stir-fried seitan (otherwise known as wheat gluten, slightly comparable to tofu in texture but somewhat firmer) with mixed vegetables and sesame sauce. It was delicious and so flavourful; I definitely didn’t miss meat or dairy. The dish on the far-right photo is another main: pumpkin with tomatoes, spinach and parmesan crisps, which I also tasted. My friend and I shared two desserts: a raspberry mousse with a tuile and lemon sorbet, and a carob (replacement for cocoa powder) cake with sesame sorbet. You really wouldn’t know that these dishes didn’t contain dairy and it was another great insight into vegan cooking. The staff were friendly and helpful and I would definitely return.
Bakery – Zabala Kafetak
Right next to our hostel was this beautiful bakery, offering a near-impossible choice of pastries, cookies, breads and even savoury tarts to begin each day in the right way (we went there three times during a two-day trip). Everything was freshly-baked by the staff and I personally loved the loaf cakes: chocolate chip and also chocolate and syrup. It was the perfect place for breakfast each day and it would take you a very long time to get through every variety of pastry on offer, although I would definitely give it a go.
Café – Kafe Botanika
Just before leaving San Sebastián, we looked for a nice little café to sit outside whilst we waited for our bus to Bilbao. We stumbled upon the stunning Kafe Botanika, tucked away near the river and set in a leafy street in a beautiful building. The place offers breakfasts, sandwiches and many different types of drinks and would be the perfect place to sit for a morning, afternoon or even a whole day if you could in a tranquil little oasis. The better weather certainly made the thought of sitting in a little outside garden more appealing, but I don’t think I’d say no even in the rain, especially since this café had a lovely interior too. I only wish I could try more of their drinks!
All in all, I think we fit a great deal into our whistle-stop visit, and didn’t have one bad meal! In the upcoming posts, you’ll also hear about our next trip to Bilbao and see exactly how these two cities in the Basque country cemented everything we’d heard about the region: great food and beautiful sights!