Tag Archives: Food

Report: Explore Basque cooking

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.”

Jon Warren: on San Sebastian and food

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”.

My first experiences as an Erasmus-student in the Basque Country

When I was 15 years old, I went to a summercamp in Switzerland. There we had to hike a lot in the The Alps, and I didn’t like it at all. After those ten awful days I promised myself I would never go to a mountainous place again. But now, seven years later I am so happy I that I recalled that decision and chose The Basque Country as my Erasmus destination. I’ve been here for a week now, and I live with four friends in an apartment in Bergara.

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