Today I truly, deeply and really felt like a journalist. For the first time in the Basque country and for the first time in many months. I was on the road today.
Me, Markus and Rahel went on assignment to make a story and pictures about San Sebastian Food. We talked with the owner of the business, met the chef of the cooking classes, did a bit of cooking ourself (well I did) and went to pintxos bars to see what the owner of San Sebastian Food, Jon Warren, was talking about.
And I even met a nice French Ham seller and traditional ham slicer. He told me a lot about ham. And at that moment, when he was explaining me about hams and cutting I felt like a real journalist. And a vegetarian.
San Sebastian (or in Basque Donosti) is the food capital of the Basque Country. In this city you can find a lot a restaurants with Michelin stars and the best pintxos. But if you are a tourist you have no idea where to find the best pintxos. There is a solution. San Sebastian Food is a company to guide tourist around food in the Basque Country. They offer guide pintxos tours, Basque cooking classes and wine tastings so tourist can find the real flavour of the Basque country.
In a small kitchen in restaurant Ziaboga in Pasaia, chef Alex Barcenilla is cooking a typical Basque meal: black beans called alubia. Because Basques don’t eat only one dish, he is also cooking pork, sausages, cabbage, pork chops and more sausages.
He is cooking with his cousin Christina Ibañez because to tourist group of today canceled because of the bad weather. But that doesn’t keep him from giving the report and photographers a cooking lesson. He chopping peppers and cutting sausages telling about Basque food. His answers are translated by the owner of San Sebastian Food Jon Warren who plays the translator at the cooking classes. “You have to treat the food with love”, says Barcenilla when is picking up a big pan full of bowling water and the alubia’s and spins is carefully. “You shouldn’t stir the beans with a spoon because then you will hurt them. Treat them with all the love you have.”
The cooking class tourist can attend with San Sebastian Food will teach them how to cook typical Basque meals. “Almost ninety percent of the time we will cook fish”, explains Warren with an apron on. “Because this restaurant is close to the sea we work with a lot of sea products. It’s very normal for Basque to cook with the seasons but also with local products.”
Apart from attending cooking classes you can also experience the Basque food culture in an easier way. Warren started his business with guided pintxo tours across San Sebastian. “The tours aren’t the same every time”, Warren says when is walking true the city. “We have to explore new spots and the opening hours of bars. So it is a bit different every time. Before a group comes we already have six places in mind that we will visit. I can change because somebody has allergies but usually we go to traditional and modern bars to taste the pintxos and wine.”
You pay the tours upfront (85 Euro per person) and the crew will handle all the finances. “The good thing about our tours is that we know what is good at witch bar”, explains Elin Jonsson, guide of San Sebastian Food, in an traditional pintxo bar. “If you don’t know what pintxo the best one is, you probable won’t order it so that is were we come in. I do it myself to. If I go to Bilbao I don’t know witch bar is the best so I ask my friends from over there.”
One of the places that the pintxo tours attends (not every time but often) is the bar Zeruko. It’s a modern and cool bar where the most amazing pintxo are displayed on the bar. “The cooking over here is very modern and molecular”, says Jonsson, pointing at the pintxos at the bar. “The cook invents his own pintxos. And what is also very special about this place is the owner. The woman is helping with serving the food but still looks stylish and representative doing it.”
In the white, clean and crowded bar you can order pintxos that are displayed on the bar but also order them from the kitchen. “They have very spectacular pintxos with smoke or flames”, according to Warren. And that is true. The hole bar is looking when somebody orders a smoking pintxos because the smoke is quite noticeable. The pintxo is a small grill with little coals under it. A small piece of fresh fish is grilling and a small mountain of vegetables and sauce on a piece of bread is just next to it. The bartender points at the pintxo and says you have to eat it in one bite. And according to the taster is delicious.
“The food looks magnificent but not all the food is really tasty”, guide Jonsson says. “But you have to try these pintxos just to see how different pintxos can be.”
The Basque Country is special. It is an own country in the country Spain and the people are proud the be different. Do not call them Spanish, they are Basque. Comparing to Holland there are a lot of big differences. The biggest ones are explained.
Social at the playground
The Basque people are always making a conversation with somebody else. On the streets you constantly hear Hola! Kaixo! Appa! People saying hello to each other and just ask how you are. Because they always come a cross somebody they know, a family member, friend, neighbour, acquaintance or their butcher.
But also after work the Basques are social. Just when they are home after a hard day of work they pick up their kids and go outside. On the playground the parents play with their kids but also meet the other neighbours with children. Just to talk about work, their children or the weather.
Opposite of the Basques are Dutch people. They tent to only have close contact with their friends. But after coming home from work they are tired and will do some shopping for dinner, cook and maybe go to the gym but that is it.
Fork, knife, spoon and…
Bread. In the Basque Country the cutlery is extended with bread. And the bread is not only to eat but also to scoop the food on the your fork or spoon. And if you are finished with your vegetables, fish, pasta, meat, soup or salad you can just clean you plate with you a piece of bread and eat all the sauce or dressing.
For the Dutch bread is also an important ingredient. Not to use at a cutlery but as meal. Dutch eat (brown) bread as breakfast and as lunch. And sometimes as a starter with herb-butter in a restaurant.
Relax, chill, take it easy, tranquilo! Basques are easy going, don’t fuss or stress, what can’t be done today can be done tomorrow. If you have to make two dresses you don’t make three right? The Basque don’t do more work then needed, they work and go home and have fun, drink a glass of wine or beer or go and work out.
In Holland it is the total opposite. Dutch work hard and lot. If you have to do two dresses but you have time left, you will just make an other one. What else could you do? Sit around and do nothing? People in Holland are very ambitious and want to have a nice and interesting job that has nice pay or have a good goal.
Eat, eat and eat
Of course the most important subject in the Basque culture couldn’t be forgotten: food. Basque people love their own food. The typical Basque food is a lot of meat and fish. The products that they use are seasonal and from the Basque nature like mushrooms, those are picked in the mountains.
And what about the pintxos? In the Basque Country you can’t find tapas but pintxos, little snacks with a wine or beer. This a special event the pintxo pote. Every week there is one evening you can buy a drink very cheap (around one Euro) and get a free pintxo. And every bar has a their own pintxo so you can taste a lot of different ones.
But except their own food, Basques don’t eat a lot of foreign food. You don’t see a lot of foreign restaurants.
In Holland there live a lot of different cultures together. And all those cultures want to eat your their own food. So you can find Dutch, Italian, Afghan, Moroccan, Turkish, Chinese, Indian, American, Portuguese, Spanish and a few others.
So as you see the Dutch and Basque cultures are very different but what is better? The Basques who love their own food, take their time and love to hang out with other people. Or the Dutch who love their work, like to taste different cuisines and eat a lot of bread. Who will say. The only thing that is clear that people love their own culture.
Tales of a Turkish woman living in the Basque Country
With our Spanish Class we went to a famous and huge market in Zumarraga, where local products such as cheese, Jamón, sweets and even whole animals were sold. Even though the fair was already quite impressing, the conversations I led throughout the day were the bigger highlight. It happened that I spent the day with a Turkish woman who is in my Spanish class, talking about our countries and the reasons for which she had come here.
Yildiz is a good-looking 42-year-old, with shoulder-long blond hair. Today, she is wearing black trousers with knee-long black glittering boots, a simple white sweater with a black cardigan over it. Her hands touch my arm from time to time to underline the importance of what she’s saying; I recognise that her nails are painted violet. Not what I would expect of the stereotype of a Turkish woman. But in these Modern Times nothing special anymore. “No”, Yildiz would correct me, “the times are not as modern as you would think. They speak of newly won democracy in Turkey, maybe the only one in the Middle East, they speak of a blooming Turkey with a great future ahead.” In terms of economics, Turkey might be blooming. According to Yildiz the country’s gross domestic product grew by seven percent last year, which is a huge increase compared to other European countries that are stuck in the crisis. “We don’t feel an economic crisis, as lots of other countries do at the moment. But what occurs in Turkey instead is a huge back leash in terms of democracy, freedom of speech and information as well as the separation of religion and state.” She amplified this by saying that while it was allowed to criticise the government in earlier years, one would now have to fear prison when stating his opinion. Like many journalists, who have been imprisoned for years by now, still without judgement or any kind of law suit.
What she criticises most about the pro-Islamic government, namely its strongest force in person of Tayyip Erdogan, is that he has weakened some of the achievements made by Atatürk, who is the founder of the Republic of Turkey and was its first President after the The Turkish War of Independence (Turkish: İstiklâl Harbi) . “Atatürk is known for his modernisations of the Turkish state, among them the separation of religion and politics”, Yildiz says while we are testing different variations of Basque Cake, even though the content of her speaking is everything but sweet: “As a working woman, I have no chance to advance my position in an enterprise if I don’t prove full dedication to the executive party’s political views and/or practice my religion in public work. But it’s not only that you have to be very religious to be successful in your own career, the bigger problem is that religiously important figures get the politically important positions. We are moving towards a religiously state.” That she reads in the news that Turkey is considered a democracy, the 42-years old simply doesn’t understand.
However, this doesn’t mean that Yildiz was opposed to her religion, the Islam. She does practice some important traditions and rituals. For example, I observed that she was not tasting Jamón at the market. She explained that she did not eat pork, fasted during the Ramadan and even prayed sometimes. But what she totally disagrees with is the manner in which the religion was used as a tool in politics as this sort of approach could easily damage the religion itself.
“When I was a student and 20 years old, few girls were covering their hair”, says Yildiz. She estimates that nowadays it’s around the half of the Turkish women who wear a headscarf. Totally disagreeing with the political situation, Yildiz and her husband decided to come to Spain as her husband was offered a research professorship position by the Basque Foundation for Science more than a year ago. Her husband is now a professor at a private university and teaches Engineering Courses. Yildiz is looking for a job in this country she doesn’t really feel comfortable in, but which still is the better option than living in a state where she can’t say what she thinks. “However, when Tayyip Erdogan loses his power, we will go back to Turkey.” Then, she would like to go into politics for the party of Atatürk, who rescued women citizens from slavery (before him female citizens were not entitled to vote or to be elected) and brought democracy to the country for a long time ago, she continues proudly.
And Yildiz could escape the mountains of the Basque Country which she feels trapped in –probably just as she feels mentally trapped in Turkey – and exchange it for the open sea in her home town.
“What is it that makes the difference to Switzerland?” That’s one of the first questions being asked, when I tell Basque people where I come from. They’ve heard about the banks and the clocks with the cuckoos coming out every full hour. Some of them have travelled to Switzerland and tasted the famous cheese and chocolate. Recently I played a game with a Pole and Czech guy, when everyone had to speak out the three first associations that one had with the other countries. Switzerland was Matterhorn, Geneva and Victorinox. The first one is a famous mountain with the shape of which the Toblerone chocolate consists of, the second one a Swiss city and important finance place in the western situated French part of Switzerland and the third is a pocket knife made in Switzerland and used all around the world – actually quite useful when you would like to make a fire in the forest or something and would like to prepare a wooden stick or something like that.
So I encountered many prejudices and interesting associations, but my personal difference has nothing to do with anything material. That’s because I think that the difference is something emotional and not a measurement of one’s export industry or income per head. So what I tell the Basque people when they ask me about the differences to my own country I tell them: “You.” It’s the people that make the difference. And even though this is an answer that might be standard, it’s true. I will give you an example in form of a direct comparison:
In the Basque country, as far as I can assess it from what I know so far and without wanting to judge it, people work to live. Life and its pleasantries are valued very highly and people are aware of it. So they make festivals just to enjoy the moment, they sit with each other for long hours of talking, eating and drinking. They know a lot of people and meet knew people in the streets, just like that. Basque men and women can talk to a clerk in the kiosk as if they had known each other for years. It is the most normal thing in the world to talk with whoever you meet. I don’t know if it’s the sun that makes people automatically stay out longer hours, but it’s nice. I experienced this myself during this stay. Never in my life have I met more people in this amount of time – I already feel like I know half of the city. Yesterday when I went out I just naturally talked with everyone who was around me and had a hard time greeting everyone I knew. I think that in my situation as an Erasmus student I also appear more open for other people but I’m sure that it’s also the people here. I met a guy who was in Erasmus in Lausanne, Switzerland, and he said the Swiss people he encountered were rather cold and distanced – we consider the French part in which Lausanne is situated in more open than the German part in which I live in, by the way.
On the other hand there is Switzerland, which is without doubt a wealthy and successful example of a country. I love it for being beautiful and providing its people a lot of different possibilities. But being wealthy also means to work very hard. This is what I realise especially when I’m abroad. I would say most Swiss people live to work. We identify ourselves a lot with our work and enterprise and we don’t mind working long hours. During the week most people don’t go out because they think about the next morning, wanting to leave early for the mountain of work that is awaiting them. As a consequence social contacts can’t be maintained intensely. In addition to that it is unusual to talk to people you don’t know or aren’t introduced to by somebody you know. The own privacy is held high. So in Switzerland I would never bother the person sitting next to me in a train for example, as I think I might disturb him or her. But aren’t it the accidental clashes that can produce the most interesting talks?
So I definitely want to take these positive experiences of meeting and chatting with whomever you encounter. There’s nothing to lose!
Today is a special day. I had my one and only exam today, about Production on TV. A special exam because there were only five questions and it was my first exam with open questions.
A special day because today the real Countdown’s begun (like the song from Ozzy Osbourne, one of my favourite artist). It is only one week and then I am back in Holland. And there is a lot that I have to do.
I have to work all weekend at eitb.com, write reports for my blog,finish my other school work and documentary, buy gifts for my family and myself.
And in the mean time do some things I have done before. Like eating a MaxiBom. I think I will start with that tomorrow.
Today I was sitting in the bus from Eskoriatza to Vitoria. I usually take the bus at 19.15 o’clock but today I only had a meeting so if had the bus from 16.15 o’clock. And (because everything is different here in the Basque country) the bus took a different route because that changes around here.
This time the route passed the lake Ulibarri but not through Landa and Ulibarri-Gamboa but an other one. And because I was very active and it was not dark yet I could see everything. It was nice to think what will come around the corner, and every time it was something else. I saw cows, sheep, people in the vegetable garden, bikers, hills, valleys, mountains and other traffic. This is one of the things I will miss the most when I am at home. The beautiful view from the bus, every day different and now traffic jams.
This Monday was a special day, it was Saint Nicolas in Holland. That means gifts, hot chocolate, family, black Pete’s, excitement and fun. But because I was in Vitoria I couldn’t celebrate with my family, friends and scouting children.
So I celebrated myself. I bought myself a gift and baked some typical Dutch cookies: speculaas.
Thanks to my friend Linda, I could bake them because she gave me some special sugar and spices at my Going Away Party, so thank you Lin!
I shared my cookies with my Swiss friends and my family at home and they liked it too. So I have to write the recipe in English and Spanish.
And to top my Dutch week I baked some pancakes today for dinner. And of course I ate them with cheese (I’m a typical Dutch girl who loves cheese) and jam/marmalade.
Ontheoutsidethecatholicrefugeeisalsoverybeautiful. Don’t forget to give it a second look. Youcan search forgargoylesclosetothewindowsandwalkaroundthecathedraltoseeallthedifferentsides.
MuseumofNaturalSciences is a very small museum. I only has two small floors and the objects you can see over here aren’t that special. The museum has a few fossils from dinosaurs but not anything worth mentioning. The collection of the butterflies is pretty but I bit sad for all those creatures who died and are in a museum.
In an hour you are done with this small museum especially when you are foreigners and can’t read the signs and information.
MuseumofArcheologyislocatedintheBibetbuilding.Thebuildingistheoppositefromthecollectionitisanewmodernbuildingwiththreefloorsofoldpots,pans,arrowheadsandfarmequipment.Themuseumisinteractive.Youcanseesmallclipsaboutthefoundartifacts. But after seeing a the artifacts a few times you get a bit bored of seeing only pots, arrowheads and farm equipment.
MuseumofFineArts in the Palacio de Augusri, in this museum you will find a fine selection of Spanish art from the 18th and 19th centuries and a collection of artworks that trace the development of Basque art from 1850 to 1950.
ArmsMuseumofÁlava is a museum were you van find, like the name says, all different kind of arms from the prehistoric, middle ages and also more recent, from the 20th century. There are swords, axes, shields, knifes, armors but also guns.
You can see arm from all different parts of the world like Arabia, Central Africa and Far East. And a museum with this special subject has to bee visit.
BasqueMuseumofContemporaryArt(Artium)istheonlymuseumyouhavetopayfor.Theentreefeeisaroundsixeurosbutyougetalotforthatinreturnifyouareanartlover. The best ting about this museums is that it is also opened on Sunday’s, so if you bored on you free day you can visit a museum.
But beware, the museum is very small. There is only one floor (but it is big) with modern, impressionism art. And as an exception this museum has information in English.