Tag Archives: Food

Basque Traditions: the Txarriboda, or Pig Slaughter

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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…

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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.

The Salt Valley of Añana-Salinas de Añana, Araba

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Salinas de Añana2Following with those places that you normally won´t visit when coming to the Basque Country, there´s a very special valley located in the province of Araba. It´s an inner “salt valley”, where locals have been obtaining pure salt from the ground  for the past 1200 years. Abandoned for decades, it´s being recovered by a new Foundation that pretends to preserve and to recover its former activity. It can be visited in small guided tours, the surrounding landscape is just amazing and the whole area is full of towns with a historical past and beautiful buildings. The salt obtained is excellent for cooking and considered one of the best in the world. Much unknown, though…Salinas de Añana

To visit their web page, click here,  Salt Valley. And if you type “salinas de añana” in YouTube (no “ñ” in your English keyboards, I´m afraid), there are some very decent videos showing this spectacular result of the action of nature and human activity.

Those Strange Eating Schedules

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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!!.