Another installment of the Basque food ABC’s. Today we talk about the letter…D!
For those of you who are confused, thinking about the last entry published (babarrunak, which clearly starts with B), you should know that the Basque alphabet has no letter ‘c’.
So, D is for….Danborrada! In Spanish it’s the Tamborrada, and in English a simple Day of San Sebastián will suffice. It’s quite possibly the biggest celebration in the city, and definitely one of the biggest in Basque Country. But what is it?
Beginning at midnight on January 20, citizens crowd into the Plaza de la Constitución to kick off this twenty-four-hour party. And everyone is dressed as….chefs! Banging drums, pots, and whatever they can get their hands on, Donostiarras parade in their krewes through the city, stopping at various bars and taking a long pause for a lengthy lunch, often including the specialty angulas (see the A entry in the ABC’s).
Legend has it that, once upon a time, when Napoleonic troops invaded the city, the cooks of the city chased them away by banging kitchen utensils threateningly. That’s where the custom of dressing up in cook’s garb comes from. Really, it’s another raucous festival, only slightly less food-focused than the average Basque jaiak. It’s everyone’s favorite. Don’t miss it!
Another installment of the Basque Food ABC’s. Today, we talk about the letter…B!
B is for….babarrunak. Babarrunak is basque for beans, and nowhere are beans more treasured than in the nearby town of Tolosa. Alubiadas, loosely translated as bean fests, are parties for groups of friends from the age of 15 to 95. And they revolve around a relaxed afternoon of eating beans, drinking, and talking. I’ve been to a fair share thanks to a good friend, and there’s something special about sitting in a square in Tolosa, knocking off the chill and eating your fill of the famous black Tolosa bean, and lingering over cocktails for hours.
The Tolosa bean is peculiar for several reasons: it’s quite expensive, usually running between 7 and 15 euros a kilo. It’s also misleading: when you buy them, they resemble black frijoles. However, after hours of cooking, they turn a dark red and take on their luscious silky smooth texture. These are a must try. My mom was probably confused when I sent her a bag for Christmas, but these beans are as close to a luxury item as legumes get.
Since we’re just starting out together, I thought it might be appropriate to begin with the basics. The really basic basics. So I will be highlighting the ABC’s of Basque food on the blog.
A is for….ANGULAK. Also known as txitxardina, these are elvers, or baby eels. They also cost 1000 euros per kilogram. What, you didn’t know that in a certain corner of the world baby eels were nearly as precious as caviar? Well here in Basque Country, the price of these little guys skyrocketed when demand from foreign soil nearly wiped them out.
Nowadays they are usually enjoyed by the upper crust on special days, such as the Day of San Sebastián (January 20). They are typically cooked really, really simply: a bit of garlic, hot olive oil and just a moment in the pan. It’s a moment for steel nerves, even among the expert cooks of the local gastronomic societies.
You can find the imitation version lining the bars of the old town in San Sebastián. They are served as a simple pintxo on top of bread, with a pepper vinaigrette, or atop salads. It’s worth a try, but neither the texture or taste will come close to the real thing. You can save that for a special occasion.
This is a question that is so much more complex than what most would have you believe. It’s not just pintxos. It’s not just chuleta (steak) or seafood. And it’s not just food.
It’s a table set for all your friends, in a txoko, or dining society. It’s fresh products, eaten at their peak time and with hardly anything added. Basque food means leave your curries, leave your spices, and heck, you don’t really even need your black pepper.
Basque food is a sporting event. Who has the best marmitako? Where do you have your hamaiketako (midday snack)? And most importantly…how many courses can you fit in your stomach? There is no room for people with a hesitant relationship with food. And there is definitely no room for the word ‘calories’. I can’t remember the last time I used it, in fact.
Basque food is bar food, to be eaten one at a time, moving from place to place and always accompanied by a small glass of wine or beer.
Basque food is a food that is shrouded in mystery. Due in part to the mysterious language and in part to the tendency of Basques to stick with their social group of toda la vida (lifelong).
This is just a little intro. Here we’ll be talking about all things Basque, so I hope you chime in!
What do you think of when you think of Basque cuisine?