Category Archives: Food

Report: Explore Basque cooking

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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.”

Pintxo tours

Apart from attending cooking classes you can also experience the Basque food culture Traditional Pintxosin 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.”

ZerukoOne of the pintxos at Zeruko

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.”

Madrid at night

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Madrid at night is also gorgeous. Big city lights make you feel cosy. There are a lot of Christmas decorations as well and companies such as: Coffee with cinnamon and other spicy stuff and cream at Sturbucks café.

We went at San Miguel Market. Great place to eat and drink in the evening with friends. There are located different tants with food and drinks. For example, tant with cheese and special wine for that and so on.

It was also great morning in Madrid with nice breakfast. The most typical to eat in the morning is churros with hot chocolate. It is soo tasty, but very fatty, so, you can fulfill your stomach for the whole day.

San Sebastian is a little paradise…

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I went to San Sebastian with my “Laguna”. A Laguna is a buddy from the University that helps you with everything you would like to know. We took the bus and from Mondragon to San Sebastian. It took us about one hour to get there.  I wasn’t feeling very well because of the wobbling of the bus.

When we arrived in Donostia (San Sebastian in Bask) the weather was really nice.That made me feel better in a second. Cause in Holland the weather already sucks so I was really glad with the 32 degrees and full sun!!

the beachCIMG4156

We had to walk twenty minutes to arrive on the beach. When we got closer I already smelt the salt air that was coming from the sea. I loved it. When we arrived at the beach I was amazed. It was so pretty!! It was a bay with a little island called ´Santa Clara´ in the middle. The beach was surrounded by mountains and the sea was really blue. The first thing I did was take off my flip-flops and walk in the sand with bare feet. We walked the whole coastline with my feet in the water. Oh I was so happy that moment! My nausea disappeared like snow in the sun and the only thing I was hearing was the sound of the ocean.

The beachpark San Sebastian

After the walk we went for a bite to eat. We went to a beach tent. We ate a bocadillo. You really get a big one so it was way too much for me. Well better to much than to little. After lunch we walked to the other side of the beach where we saw a few tourist shops. And afcourse I am a real tourist so I loved the shops.

Late dinners and “Txikiteo”

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My roommate took me shopping in Vitoria. it’s about 35 minutes driving with the car. The shoppingmall was a really big building in the outer ring of Vitoria. They a lot of stores. Also a lot of the same stores we have in Holland, like the H&M and The Zara.

When we got home we ate a sandwich in bar Taupa. It is across my house. The owner of the bar is my roommates boyfriend. I was really hungry because it was allready ten. That is a normal time to eat here. You have lunch around three or four and dinner around nine or ten. I have to get used to that.

A lot of times they eat sandwiches or tortillas in the evening.  The sandwiches are called bocadillo’s, and you get half of a baguette. A lot of times people eat meat on theyre sandwich like pork or chicken. I had a sandwich with chicken and cheese. They also put big sweet peppers on the sandwiches.

After I had a little siesta we went out in Mondragon. Together with my roommates and Wilco we went to different bars. It is very normal here to go to a lot of different bars, have a drink in one and then go another. They call this “Txikiteo” what literally means, from bar to bar.

 The bars are very different than in Holland. A lot of them are not really nice to look at( in my opinion). No nice tables or lights . Just a room with a lot of people drinking and bright light. The music is also different. The play a lot of punk. This is the music where a lot of people listen to around here. Also a lot of people have their own band or play in one. I drunk my first Kalimotxo, this is cheap red wine with coca cola and a lot of ice and a lemon in it. It doesn’t sound that nice, i agree. But it is a really bask drink and i actually like it!!

When we got home we ate a sandwich in bar Taupa. The owner of the bar is Leire’s boyfriend.

 I was really hungry cause we had dinner at ten. That is a normal time to eat here. You have lunch around 3 or 4 and dinner around 9 or 10. I have to get used to that.

 After I had a little siesta we went out in Mondragon. Together with Leire, Oihana and Wilco we went to a view different bars. It is very normal here to go to  view bars. Have a drink in one and then go another. They call this “Txikiteo”. The bars are different than in Holland. A lot of them are not really nice to look at. No nice tables or lights . Just a room with a lot of people drinking and bright light. The music is also different. The play a lot of punk. This is the music were a lot of people listen to around here. Also a lot of people have their own band or play in one. I drank my first Kalimotxo, this is cheap red wine with coca cola and a lot of ice. I like it very much

 

shots

A funny thing is that they all drink utch beer here. In every bar they have Heineken and Amstel. They also are familiar with shots. At least my roommates are:P Tequila, Wodka y lima (witch i like the most) and Wodka Negro. From the last one it is better to drink just one shot because your tong and mouth are turning black….

Autumn in Vitoria

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We, Natalja and I, have visited Vitoria. We came there at about 4 pm to walk around and make some pictures. It was very beautiful day: no clouds, a little bit of sunshine and no wind. This autumn weather makes you feel very romantic and comfortable.

From my point of view, Vitoria is very beautiful and pleasant place. In some moment I felt like in Tallinn, that’s why I had and still have a feeling of nostalgia.

In Vitoria there are a lot of narrow streets, ancient buildings, churches and cathedrals. You can also relax in a quite park, sitting on a bench and eating warm croissant.

I think, this is an ideal place for dates =).

There are located few chocolaterías in Vitoria, which make this city much warmer and more sweet. La Peña Dulce is a confeteria in the centre of Vitoria. Is is a good place to buy sweets for a present.

Also, you can visit different museums. For example, there is Artium. There are different exhibitions of a modern art, cinema, theatre, library and some shops.

Moreover, Vitoria is a good place to make shopping. There are a lot of interesting shops in a centre city, which we don’t have in Estonia (don’t know about other countries). More fare away is located a big shopping mall called Boulevard, there you can find the most popular international brands.

At the end of the tour it is very nice to sit in croissanteria, drink some coffee and take a fresh bun.

The Food Club in Mondragon

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The Food Club is very unique and interesting place. All of the food clubs are located only in  Mondragon/Arrasate, Basque Country. Anyone can enter in the food club by paying a certain amount of money and every month he or she must do a payment. If you are an owner of the food club you can invite different people there but somebody just from a street can not enter there.

Traditionally, in the food club only men cook. Before women were not even allowed to be there. Nowadays, it has changed but still, men in a kitchen are more important.

Different owners can be gathered under the same roof. They have particular tables and schedule, when they can come, cook and eat with family or friends.

“We eat here almost every week with my family because it is more comfortable and cheaper” – says owner of a food club Lander.

Basque meals

Food club is very suitable place for celebrating different holydays. For example, on Marixtu Kajoi (national holyday in Mondragon/Arrasate) when all restaurants and bars are full with people, this is a best opportunity to do.

For 15 or 20 euro you can have snacks. 1st and 2nd meal, dessert, different drinks, cocktails, vine and other alcoholic drinks.

Basque people prefer to do different sorts of meat with potato but everyone can do what he wants.

“After a dinner we like to drink coffee and smoke a cigar. It is a kind of a special ritual” – explains one of the guests of the food club Dennis.

It is typical to drink on a dessert cocktail which is made from sparkling wine, ice cream and lemon. It refreshes you after a plentiful dinner and gives energy to party longer.

Food clubs are not only places to eat cheaper, but it is also a place to gather with friends, discus disturbing topics and spend time with pleasure. Pictures you can look here.

Un kalimotxo, por favor!

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Wine in BC it is so cheap, that you can get drunk with 5 euro-)) The most famous and origin drink of BC is kalimotxo. We drink it almost every day.  You need: coca-cola + cheap red vine + ice = nice refreshing cocktail. Try to drink 5 or more and then you feel happy. NB! Don’t look at a mirror because you can be afraid of yours blue or black teeth.

We also tried here a black vodka. Is very nice black shot which makes your teeth go more black then, but after 5 kalimoctxos you don’t mind. This vodka have something like bubbles in it and blueberry taste. I like it, so when I come back to Estonia I am going to introduce all that stuff to my friends.

 

Also, BC produces its own wine called Rioja. It has very rich taste and cost approximately 2 euros.

Jon Warren: on San Sebastian and food

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jon-paginaJon Warren first arrived in Donostia-San Sebastian around 2002 on an ordinary summer’s evening that would eventually prove life-changing.

Stopping off for the night during a road trip down to Portugal, the vibrant atmosphere and sight of copious pintxos on the bar convinced Jon and his friend they had hit fiesta-time: “it was like: wow!”

Such was the draw of the place for Jon that on the way back they decided to spend two nights in the Gipuzkoa capital: “We had such a good time; standing on the Concha (beach) I said to my friend: ‘I’m going to live here one day’.”

True to his word, Jon returned to live in the city, though not after four years working in the City of London.

“Working in London.. I never really felt excited. Everyday on a desk,.. doing something I wasn’t passionate about, you think ‘surely this can’t be it’.”

“I quit my job in November 2007 just knowing I wanted to do something else… Doing this, I absolutely love it because every day’s an adventure, doing my own thing.”

Jon’s “own thing” is San Sebastian Food, his own self-run tour business. The aim of the company is to provide tourists over on a short break to the Basque Country with a culinary insight they may otherwise miss. It is inspired in what Jon calls his “six-month gastronomic adventure” sussing out the bars and discovering the best pintxos.

Jon’s personal interest in food is more broadly centred on the entire experience of eating; something which may be linked to some of his earliest memories: “I’ve got some great food memories, but always linked to the people I’m with. “

Reflecting on what aroused his love for all things culinary, Jon recalls his uncle Paddy, an “adventurer” who lived mostly in Sierra Leone, given to roasting whole pigs and baking bread on visits home to the family. It is an almost tangible memory that evokes warm summer evenings and smells of spit-roast pork wafting over lawns of playing children.

Capturing that more sensuous experience is what underlines a lot of Jon’s tours, which move away from the often sterile sensation of a restaurant, to the shouts and smells of a packed bar or busy farmers’ market; “I love Michelin-starred food but I’m a lot more interested in the social side of things,… pintxos, the cider houses, where it’s all about meeting your friends and chatting”.

Life change

Jon made the move to San Sebastian in January 2008. After an 8-week language course at Lacunza he went “armed with dodgy Spanish, a basic CV but plenty of enthusiasm” to seek work at the Villa Soro hotel in Ategorrieta. He did “a bit of everything.. bellboy, porter, barman…” though it would later prove to be a significant decision.

Aside from becoming for many guests an unofficial guide to the best places to eat, he would also, ironically perhaps, meet his English girlfriend Nicole, who came to stay at the hotel one weekend with a group of friends:

“She moved out here last May and I have her to thank for helping me so much; from brain-storming to proof reading she has helped enormously.”

As far as his success this side of the Atlantic, Jon is unreserved in his praise for the Basque people whom he has encountered over the past three years: “They’ve been so incredibly friendly from when I arrived… such warm, open people, so happy to help..

“Thanks to friends, for example, I’ve been able to make contacts with the cheese farm in Urnieta where we Jon Warren - culinar#7B6835do a tour with the owners,” says Jon.

Jon is modest about his own contribution to his success, a trait that goes down well in this part of the world. He is, by his own admission, sociable and often “gets chatting to people”, a characteristic of a natural networker and one that has helped him to open a lot of doors into the heart of the Basque culinary experience, sometimes literally.

Jon says his “strongest” food memory was in the Rioja with Nicole looking for somewhere to eat. With a predilection for talking to people – “old ladies especially” – they were finally led by one senior citizen to a restaurant that was seemingly locked up:

“She turned the lights on and said ‘right, what are you having?’; she cooked this lunch just for us with a nice bottle of wine…

“It was nothing amazing; the TV was blaring and the food wasn’t fabulous but for me that’s what it’s about: That incredible, unique experience”.

Angela Linskey, Naera Haundi: Jam with scruples

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AngelaShopping for jams in the supermarket, I little expected to find Angela Linskey and much less the discoveries I would make when visiting Naera Haundi where the conserves are made.

Naera Haundi is a four hundred-year-old farmhouse officially in the Basque town of Abaltzisketa, though in reality located down a steep path on the side of a valley at the foothills of the Txindoki mountain, an ideal spot for spending a few days if, as the website says, it is peace and tranquillity you are after.

It is more than 30 years since Angela and her Basque husband Jesus Mari decided to leave San Sebastian to “try the rural lifestyle of a traditional Basque farm.” While perhaps happy to escape the increasing buzz of the city, however, it was a different concern that encouraged this couple to make such a radical change:

“We started getting a bit worried about the food we were eating. We read a book called Your Daily Bread by a woman who had been around a flour-refining factory where they were gassing the flour to make it whiter. We started reading more about what we were eating and it just went on from there. The only clear idea we had was that we wanted another kind of life and it had to be in the sphere of organic farming.”

Naera Haundi is dedicated to growing, processing and selling only organically home-grown fruit jams and jellies. “We make between 12-14,000 jars (of “Nahera” jam) a year. About 75% of that is currently from our own fruit… And the whole process is here – we don’t have any machinery, it’s literally spooning it in.”jams and jellies

The decision of Angela and others like her to pursue organic farming coincided with a growing trend for alternative farming during the 1970s and beyond (though still almost unheard of in the Basque Country) among people disillusioned with conventional methods or routines: “Most of us who started that way are from small or large towns… It was a revolution you see – not just going out and shouting in the streets – to go back and work on the land.”

From trend to trendy

Though organic products continue to have a rather middle-class image, Angela staunchly defends their dietary value: “If you’re eating organic, you’re generally eating very healthily – people eating organic food are not often at the doctors… If you take into account the hydrogenated fats and pesticides in conventional foods, what is that costing a country in its health service?” (Interestingly, the UK’s Soil Association recently published a report confirming the nutritional value of organic to be significantly higher than non-organic foods).

Since their compromise with organic farming over 30 years ago, Naera Haundi have taken steps to broaden their commitment to global issues such as climate change. “We have an installation with photo-voltaic panels for producing electricity… Next to them are thermal solar panels for heating water. We heat water for up to 10-12 people.” (Enough for the maximum 8 people they can put up in two apartments plus themselves).

Then there are the two wood-burning stoves: “Wood- produces the same amount of carbon dioxide as a rotting log,” she explains. “We use the ash – potash – as fertilizer and chip the wood we can’t use for compost.”

I point out that in Vietnam, fishermen on the Mekong recycle everything, including rice husks, out of economic necessity: “I think we need to be poor again,” she concurs. “The amount of things that people throw away.. (My generation) were brought up to think throwing food away was a sin.”

Naera Haundi BaserriOne is reminded of a by-gone era at Naera Haundi and not by accident. The modern obsession with packaging is one of Angela’s major grievances: “It’s just so unnecessary,” she says. She confesses to feeling “out of place” in her hometown of Birstall, West Yorkshire, partly due to the demise of high street shops. “It’s so disappointing – there used to be small shops, the dairy etc; now there’s (sic) just the two supermarkets – it really depresses me.”

Almost forty years have passed since Angela and her sister left Birstall  to embark on a hitchhiking holiday in France, deciding on impulse to come this way. She expresses curiosity at an English woman working for (the inherently Basque) EITB, but Angela’s integration after four decades is profound: “To live on a farm in this country, to understand the Basque culture, you have to speak Euskera… So when we came to (Naera Haundi) we decided we would use Basque all the time.”

The entire eleven acres of Naera Haundi, Angela and Jesus Mari planted themselves; trees include apple, quince and pear, though a recent cyclone in the Basque Country blew down fifty in total, twenty-seven of them pear trees, an all too poignant reminder for the couple of the possible effects of climate change. A massive problem, though possibly with a small solution?

“We just can’t continue with the way we’re consuming now,” saying Angela, “eventually we’re all going to have to go back to the 1950s – and that will be a good thing, not only for the planet, but for people’s health, physical and spiritual.”

Bilbao 2.0

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After my Erasmus adventure last year, I knew I would someday go back to the Basque Country. The climate, the people, the food, the culture, the cities, the beach, … too many reasons not to come back. A training period at EiTB was the ideal solution to explore Euskal Herria some more.

Koen and I said Gipuzkoa goodbye and moved up north to the inner city of Bilbao (Bizkaia) in the Abando district. An opportunity to live the city life style to the fullest, while we are not restricted by long distances and bus lines (our last stay was in Bergara, approx. 50 km from Bilbao). Bilbao itself has enough to offer, as we knew already.

Tastebuds

Our apartment lies in Indautxu, one of the two neighbourhoods of Abando. It is ideally situated in the heart of the city with everything within walking distance.

Abando by night © Wiki

Abando by night © Wiki

Culturally and gastronomically this is going to be a welcome break from the everyday life back home. My first bite in a pintxo yesterday was a delight for my tastebuds. Don’t get me wrong, Belgium has some great dishes, especially in winter, but the Basques simply take cooking food to another level.

Last time my cultural visits in Bilbao were limited to the unavoidable Guggenheim. This time I’m going look for some alternatives like the Museum of Fine Arts (with a great permanent collection)  or the beautiful Teatro Arriaga. A music concert (Santana 27, Kafé Antzokia) here and there would be nice as well.

The inside of Teatro Arriaga © Astenagusia

The inside of Teatro Arriaga © Astenagusia

¿Que?

My Spanish language skills upgraded from ‘terrible’ to ‘understandable’ which eases social converse and brings with it the opportunity to connect a bit more with locals. But I have still a very long way to go until I can master the language.

Of course the climate is a positive change as well. Although there’s only a small difference of 5°C in comparison to Belgium you notice an immediate shift when you get of the plane. Not exactly Meditarianian but good enough for me.

We’ll see what this city has in store for me…

See you next time!

Agur!