F is for…Frijituak! Literally ‘fried things’, this concept is both absurdly obvious and totally foreign. It’s a plate of varied fried things typical to the cuisine, such as croquetas, stuffed mussels (tigres), and balls of meat.
It’s served as a first course (for one person!) in the most hallowed of the daily eating institutions, the restaurant that has menú del día. This type of spot is both holding strong and dying out. More and more there are fewer, but they are still an indispensable part of the worker’s life. A place to go and get simple food, like your ama makes, and for relatively inexpensive. There is a drink all you want, eat all you want air to it. Other typical first courses include soup, salads, fish puddings, etc. and the second course is often meat and potatoes, fish, or meatballs.
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!
Cider season is nearing a close here in Basque Country.
Basque cider is a drink in its own category. It’s not quite French cider, it’s nothing like American…and it’s a seasonal beverage, best enjoyed in the same building in which it is made, the ciderhouse.
There are a few rules that can help an outsider enjoy the ciderhouse experience as much as a local. It’s much more difficult to have a bad time in a place where steaks are sizzling and cider is flowing from wooden barrels, but there is a method behind that madness. Here are some cider house rules:
Is it May? Anytime between June and November? Please, don’t go to a ciderhouse. Unless you are looking for a Disney version of this hallowed tradition.
Reserve ahead because during the season the smaller (read, more local) ciderhouses tend to fill up.
Go in a group. With cider, the more the merrier, in all senses of the word.
Wear a sweater. It’s cold in the rooms where cider is kept in huge wooden barrels.
Come hungry. Four courses include tortilla, cod, steak and traditional dessert of membrillo, cheese and walnuts.
The sound TXOTX! (phonetically, choch) means please head directly to the barrel room.
When taking cider from the barrels, line up directly behind the person ahead of you. Align your glass with theirs, such that when they step away, the cider streams directly into your glass.
Get a little bit of cider at a time. Down it. Get more. Repeat, a LOT.
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.
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?