Eating through San Sebastian: a love note for this culinary corner
I was so overwhelmed, so intrigued, so inspired, and so impressed with the food from the Basque Country that when I arrived home after my first trip, I simply couldn’t write about it. There were no words that would do justice to the place and its overwhelming variety of flavors, and only a photo could illustrate the juxtaposition of the humbleness of each dish and the impressiveness of the presentation, as pintxo after pintxo is piled on top of one another and laid alongside dons of other heaping plates, each filled with a different–beautiful–little piece of culinary perfection. It’s too much, my friends.
It’s soaked in now. San Sebastian has left its mark on me, to say the least. I am now a fan of things I probably wouldn’t have touched in another lifetime: anchovies, for example, and baby eels (I know, right?). One of my favorite things in the world now is a gilda, which is an anchovy wrapped around a pepper and skewered, along with a (usually anchovy-stuffed) olive. It’s perfection, especially alongside drinks like vermouth.
Describing the pintxo scene is difficult because of the array of dishes and flavors offered. I would classify the foods in two categories: traditional, and nouveau. Traditional cuisine is (and certainly not limited to) something delicious on a slice of bread. Red peppers, shrimp, jam, and goat cheese are staples of the cuisine, so many pintxos offer a combination of these flavors cooked in myriad ways.
And then there’s foie. Oh, the foie.
One of the best things about Spanish cuisine is that chefs are not afraid to take risks. While other countries in Europe (that shall remained unnamed) tend to tightly grasp onto traditional fare, Spanish chefs are not afraid to throw in the flavors of other cultures and cuisines. It’s not uncommon to find hummus, curry, or elements of Japanese food, like tataki, at a Spanish restaurant. The nouveau cuisine, which we saw a lot more of in Bilbao, is a world of its own.
I once read that there are over 500 bars in the small historic area of San Sebastian. Tourists come there to eat, and we were no exception. Eat we did, and we ate well. Se come bien in San Sebastian. I don’t know how to say that in Basque, but the next time I visit, I’ll make sure to find out.