Category Archives: Food

Basque Traditions: the Txarriboda, or Pig Slaughter

  • Menéame0

By mid November climate changes and winter settles in the Basque Country. Then, in many “baserris“, Basque farm houses, people get ready for the celebration of the txarriboda, a centuries old event that was intended to assure the daily intake of food for the next few months. The baserritarras, of owners of the farm, call their friends and neighbours and settle a date for the txarriboda or pig slaughter. They choose the biggest one of their swines and feed him well in the weeks prior to the big day. It´s a big party for everyone, and kids are -usually- also (passive) spectators. The pig is laid down and the butcherer cuts his throat deep and long, blood spurting down into a bucket, where it´s collected to make the diverse pork products afterwards. Hairs are burnt with wooden sticks, pig is cleaned and ”sanitized”. Men kill and cut the pig, women make the food.

Once the pig is dissected, cut in half, his blood collected…the feast of the preparation of food begins. Meanwhile, there may be music on the frontyard of the farm, and people dancing, and friends socializing having some drinks and food. There´s normally a big table and food and drinks are laid on it, so everybody enjoys the party. Morcillas (blood sausage with rice or vegetables), chorizo (red sausage, spicy or not), bacon, ribs, ham,…, everything is stuffed and made and then hung on to the ceiling on a fresh space to cure for a few weeks. Deliciously fresh, natural, preservative free…a real pleasure to your senses once they are cured enough to eat.

Of course, a veterinarian has certified the good health of the pig and of the products that are obtained from it…this is a modern society too, despite its centuries old traditions.

I wanted to include some videos, but as they may be hard on your eyes :)  you may just type Txarriboda on Youtube…

A Pintxo is not a Tapa…and a Tapa is not a Ración…

  • Menéame0

pintxos BilbaoMany potential visitors to the Basque Country tend to ask about The Best Tapas Bars in town. Well, I normally answer telling them that, first of all, there´s no such thing as Tapas Bars. Most bars offer tapas or pintxos. And also, that a Tapa is not a Pintxo. To make it more complicated, a Pintxo is not a Tapa and a Tapa is not a Ración and Pintxos can be divided into Banderillas and The Rest while The Rest may have another subdivision, Pintxos You Eat With Your Hand and Pintxos Served On A Plate…it seems a bit complicated, uh?pintxos Donostia

Let´s start by the very beginning: Pintxos (or pinchos) were (and still are) small portions of food that are placed on the counter and you pick them with your hand. The classic one is the Spanish Omelette, served on a piece of bread. You get into the bar, order your drink, and grab the pintxo with your hand. There´s normally a big selection of pintxos on the counter, you can have as many as you want, but the local custom is to have just one with a “zurito” (half a beer) or a glass of wine or cider. In some selected places, mainly located in the Donostia-San Sebastián area, they also offer Pintxos made on order, more elaborate, more expensive, and that are nomally eaten using a fork.

Tapas are not Pintxos. Tapas are complimentary served in many parts of Spain, for free, to go with your drink. They are more basic than a pintxo, and may also be smaller. In some places they call Tapas to Raciones. A Ración is something that is served hot, you have it seated, in an informal way, and normally share several with your friends. And is not free. You may order A Ración of Calamares, of Patatas Bravas (spicy potatoes), of Albóndigas (meatballs), Champis (mushrooms), etc…pintxo ganador

One of the effects of the Pintxos becoming more and more popular is that  in many bars in San Sebastián they give you a plate and tell you to place your pintxos on it, then they charge you for them. That is an outrage!! Pintxos and drinks are always paid when you finish and should NEVER be eaten on a plate. It´s not our way and it should never be, pintxos are eaten with your hand and the etiquette says that they are paid based on an honor system: the waiter asks how many you´ve had, and you tell him the truth. No need to count…

Every year we hold a Pintxos Championship. The winner bar will be famous forever and customer will flock in to taste his small culinary preparations…For more info, a useful web is www.todopintxos.com.

Enkarterriak/Encartaciones, the Western Valleys

  • Menéame0

On the west of Bizkaia there exists the land known as Encartaciones, “The Chartered Towns”, a succession of green and mountainous valleys that hide beautiful places with a long mediaeval tradition, and that have always been a “different” part of Bizkaia. They had their own Casa de Juntas de Avellaneda, an ancient way of ruling themselves, parallel to the one in Gernika, and still there. But, once again, you will see no tourists at all on this area, probably the least visited in Bizkaia, despite its enormous offer of interesting attractions for those that seek the “untouched” areas. Basque is hardly spoken on this area.

Among its several attractions, the town of Balmaseda, with its mediaeval bridge  and the amazing church of Saint Severino. They hold a magnificent live recreation of the Passion of Christ on Easter (Holy Week). Not far, the best and biggest Rolls Royce museum in the world, already mentioned on this blog. Also, the Ferrería del Pobal, a faithful recreation of how ironworks were made in the past centuries, using just the force of watermills and fire. This land used to be full of iron mines and has a long tradition of ironworks, as most of the Basque Country. In Karrantza you have the Pozalagua Caves, the biggest cave in the world in its part known as Torca del Carlista (500 mt long, 240mt wide and 135mt high), with the highest concentration on earth of unique excentric stalactites and stalagmites of all shapes, even the weirdest ones.

For fun, Karpin Abentura, www.karpinabentura.com, a place where wild animals are treated from injuries and live  in its spacious areas and also where kids will enjoy the “live” dinosaurs. Also, a great place for families is Sopuerta Abentura, http://www.sopuerta-abentura.com/, fun in the trees…

Regarding food and accommodation, I can recommend Hotel Amalurra (www.amalurra.com), a different experience, it offers a complete Spa service and great food in its nice restaurant. Perfect for relax and to enjoy nature, it has huge gardens and children are most welcome. Also, the very new Hotel Ibaia, luxuriously located on an ancient convent in Gordexola, beautiful town full of palaces and manor houses (and where my grandpa was born, by the way), www.hotelibaia.es. Also, a very special place is www.casavicentepallotti.com, a balneary run by the Palotinos Fathers, Catholic priests, for those that look for relax and meditation in a romantic scenery. And almost any restaurant in the area of good, honest food at unbeatable prices.

Useful info on the area on www.enkartur.net and www.karrantza.com.

Basque is Sexy

  • Menéame0

I´ve been to the III Basque Tourism Week, held in Donostia-San Sebastián, Bilbao and Vitoria-Gasteiz. Lots of interesting people discussing about how to improve the quantity and quality of visits to our beautiful but alas! so unknown country. There was one sentence, though, that got all my attention, Basque is sexy, and yes, I think we are, and for a lot of reasons…

…because of our love for good food, good drinking and festivals…because there are plenty of places  yet to be discovered…because we make one of the best cheeses in the world (Idiazabal) but many others too…because in such a small territory we have sea, beaches, mountains, forests, lakes, caves and rivers…because our fiestas last long and suit all tastes and are really fun…because of our love for rural sports…because of our love for traditions…because of our unique language, euskera, so enigmatic…because we make one of the best wines in the world, the Rioja…because we don´t speak English and signs are in Basque and Spanish and tourists appreciate it…because of our laid back and easy going way of life…because we have the higher number of Michelin starred restaurants per head…because we keep a nice balance between rural and city life…because we have one of the most beautiful cities in Europe (in the world?), San Sebastián…because kids are welcome everywhere and we love to have them around…because of our love for families…and because a sunset from the top of the Hanging Bridge is a lifetime experience…among many other things…

It´s about time you come and visit a place full of  positive experiences and emotions…where you will find at home. And this is not just a gimmick!!

Some Places I Like In Bilbao You May Also Like

  • Menéame0

There´s always an area in every city in the world that is widely visited by tourism, forgetting about other places that may be even more interesting. Bilbao is not like San Sebastian, which offers an unparalleled natural beauty as well as a better known gastronomy. The “Guggenheim effect” has brought tourists to this formerly ignored city, but the vast majority just stay a night or two and then leave, missing some of the charmest spots in town.

What follows is a quick very short list of some of the places I like in Bilbao (ordered as they come to my mind), that you normally will not visit as a tourist (and at very fair prices):

1) Bar EME, www.baremebilbao.com,  absolutely the best sandwiches in the whole world (and I´m not exaggerating), locals love this place, you can have them either at the bar or to take away, it´s amazing how many hundreds of them they sell every day. Made with a special bread and a secret sauce, they are a treat. Quality remains untouched over the years. At 2,20 euros each, a bargain!!

porron2) La Tabernilla de Pozas, in Licenciado Poza street (known as “Pozas”, the most popular street for having some drinks before the soccer matches), you´d never enter here because it doesn´t even have a sign outside. There are no bars like this anymore. Wine coming from wooden barrels behind the bar, drunk in “porrón”,  it´s popular to have (non-peeled) peanuts and wonderful tuna sandwiches (real ones with huge chunks of fish and wonderful crusty bread), an ageless counter, unaltered premises for ages,…, and the legend says that the two brothers behind the counter haven´t talked to each other for years..

3) Melilla y Fez, in Iturribide street (Old Town), just entering the street on your left hand side, a huge variety of potato omelette (Spanish omelettes) served in big portions at very good prices. Also, “pinchos morunos” (real kebabs) and a lively local atmosphere.pinchos morunos

4) Bar Estoril, in Plaza Campuzano (downtown), the best long drinks in your life, together with wonderful french omelette pintxos. Can´t miss it screw driver made with real orange juice and the gin & tonic.

5) Bar Rio Oja, in El Perro street, the best cazuelitas (tapas), Old Town (Casco Viejo), homemade cuisine at popular prices.

6) Azak restaurant, in Pablo Alzola st, in the Basurto district, you can have selection of Iberic specialties and cheese for as less as 14 euros…and so big you´ll need to have another bottle of their wide (and cheap) wine list. A rarity in this district. Huge selection of meals, appetizers and beers.rio oja

7) Taberna Taurina, in Ledesma street (center), small but authentic with dozens of pictures of bulls and bullfighters.

8) Mina restaurant, a small restaurant in the heart of the Old Town, facing the Ribera Market. A bit pricey, but worth every cent spent at it. The chef Álvaro Garrido deserves a Michelin star, at least. Menu changes weekly, always surprising, always delicious.

9) Maestro García Rivero street, in the very center of town, full of bars where  you can have a “zurito” (small beer) or a glass of wine together with some pintxos in any of its several bars. Lively outdoor atmosphere, the place to meet to start the night for many locals.

In your next visit to Bilbao, try to visit any of the places mentioned above. You´ll get a true feeling of what this city is about.

11 Must-Sees in the Basque Country

  • Menéame0

The suggested routes below are, in my opinion, those places that you should visit when coming to this so much unknown country. Most are easily accessible on public transport and, except in high season, you shouldn´t worry too much about crowds.

1) DONOSTIA-SAN SEBASTIÁN, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe (in the world?), views from Igeldo mountain, pintxos in the Old Town, Chillida-Leku open air museum (www.museochillidaleku.com), the picturesque fishing town of HONDARRIBIA.

2) ZARAUTZ, GETARIA (wonderful promenade almost touching the sea linking both towns), grilled fish at any of the restaurants in Getaria, ZUMAIA and its beautiful church, LEKEITIO, its port, its island and the incredible retable inside its church.

3) ARANTZAZU Sanctuary (www.arantzazu.org) and OÑATI and its University(www.oinati.org).

4) SAINT JEAN DE LUZ, BIARRITZ, BAYONNE-BAIONA, in the French Basque Country (also Petit Bayonne, on the other side of the river), great chocolates and gateau basque, apart from picturesque villages and perfect beaches for surfing.

5) BILBAO, Guggenheim Museum (this was obvious!), Old Town (Casco Viejo), Funicular train to Artxanda for spectacular views of the city.

6) The HANGING BRIDGE (Puente Colgante) of Portugalete, a Unesco World Heritage Monument, unique in the world, over 110 years old and running 24 hours a day.

7) VITORIA, Old Quarter (jewish) and a guided visit to the spectacular restoration of its Old Cathedral (Ken Follett based its novel World Without End on this cathedral, so they made him a statue!)

8) ATXONDO valley, where silence can be heard, spectacular place with the mountains and sheep in the background. And several wonderful restaurants .

9) URDAIBAI Biosphere Reserve and the beaches of Laga, Laida, the town of Busturia, Mundaka (surfers´ paradise), the sea estuary, the caves of Santimamiñe and the PAINTED FOREST OF OMA. Also the steep fishing town of Elantxobe.

10) The walled towns of LAGUARDIA and LABASTIDA and the wine region of Rioja Alavesa. Not to miss the guided visits to the wine cellars underneath the town.

11) The POZALAGUA caves, in the Karrantza valley, a spectacular combination of rare stalactites and stalagmites, now specially prepared for visits with kids,, http://www.karrantza.com/?seccion=cuevas3&idioma=es.

You will not find massive tourism or tourist traps at any of these places, and distances from one to the other are not that big, so plan your visit in advance and you will make the most of this absolutely beautiful corner of the world!!

Those Strange Eating Schedules

  • Menéame0

I know, I know…all of you are kind of shocked by those strange eating schedules when you come to visit us: we do have breakfast at standard hours, just like you, but lunch is rarely before 13:30 (01:30PM), and it´s quite complicated to find a restaurant open before 21:30 (09:30PM), except maybe in Donostia-San Sebastián, where they are more influenced by the French visitors. Kids have an extra meal right after school, between 17:00 to 18:00 (just a sandwich, a piece of fruit and/or a yoghourt). On weekends this schedule readapts to our way of life: breakfast, as everywhere else, is later. But then we have the “aperitivo”, which is around 13:00, and may consist of several glasses of wine or “zuritos” (small glasses of beer), together with some pintxos, friends and outside the bars, if the weather is nice. We then have lunch (yes!), around 15:00, which may last a couple of hours. And then, the siesta…(which is not as common as you may think). Dinner on a Saturday evening may not start before 22:00 (10:00 PM) and not finish before one in the morning…or later.pintxos And it´s very hard to get a table before 0930PM.

Another habit of ours is to have the “amaiketako” (meaning at eleven), that is, a small meal by 11AM or so, in order to keep going until lunch time. It used to be more popular in the past, when factory or rural labour had long working hours and work was much tougher than today.

But why do we have these odd (to you, that is) eating schedules? Well, the legend goes that at the beginning of the XX century, when blue-collar workers started to claim their rights and obtained better salaries and therefore social status, the “capitalists” changed their eating times so they would not share their meals with their workers. As a consequence, the workers wanted to follow their bosses attitudes and habits…so they also changed their schedules accordingly…….and everybody ended having their meals later than usual…

That´s why our working and school times divide our day into two long sections. And the main news on TV are at 3PM and 9PM, finishing almost at 10PM. So don´t be surprised if you feel like having dinner at around 6PM and find that people are still working and restaurants closed. Relax, have a glass of wine and a pintxo and blend in with the locals, it´s a wonderful experience!!.