Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Joys of Pintxos and Txakoli along the Basque Coast

San Sebastian along the coast of the Bay of Biscay is considered the world's top eating destination.  There are Michelin starred restaurants, internationally renowned chefs -- and for the rest of us, those without reservations,  still so many small bars and restaurants serving up delicious, creative food.

We were in the city  for three nights and stayed in the quiet and residential area of Ondarreta
Right in front of the hotel was Bernardina Vinoteca where we got our first taste of why 
San Sebastian is called the food capital of the world.

We ordered croquetas jamon Joselito -- Joselito is well regarded in Spain as the makers 
of gourmet  Iberico hams.  They even have a jamon called Gran Reserva!  Now that's what 
I call a premium ham.  We also ordered an inventive take on the taco --  a small corn tortilla
was topped with a  lively and fresh tomato salsa and crunchy bits of chicharrones. 

Morcillas are fat and thick sausages made with pig's blood, spices and pig fat.  Rice can also be
included in the mix,  not so much an extender but as a way to add texture.  

We also ordered callos al estilo tradicional.  I really liked this -- it reminded me of callos 
my father would make when I was growing up.  It was rich, flavourful  and the tripe was 
melt-in-your-mouth tender.  We really wiped this bowl clean!

A group of women in the next table seemed to be enjoying their desserts so we ordered exactly
what they were having.  This trio of mini ice creams --vanilla, strawberry and coffee came in
chic black  sweet cones.  A chocolate truffle pastry with a luscious chocolate sauce rounded
up our very satisfying first taste of San Sebastian's culinary delights.

From the hotel, it was easy to take a bus to the old town.  I enjoyed the relaxed and 
laid back atmosphere.  It was nice to just sit and listen to street performers playing along the pedestrian-only street, right in front of the Cathedral.

This street led all the way to the other end and is bound by bars where you can pop in, grab a
couple of pintxos and a drink then move on to the next bar and do the same thing.  There was
such a buzzing and casual atmosphere on the streets of the old town of San Sebastian.

The next day, we went on a tour of the Basque country.  I had previously engaged Iker, a
Tours by Locals guide who suggested that we visit pretty coastal towns outside of San Sebastian.
We started out in Zumaia where we saw these familiar flechas amarillas,  pointing the way to Santiago.  The Basque country is part of the route to Santiago called the Northern Camino.

In Zumaia,  we saw the flych -- striated cliffs formed by the waves crashing along the rocks.
The flychs date back to a hundred million years and are such a breath-taking sight.

I loved the wild and rocky coastline of Zumaia.  Our guide Iker mentioned that the Northern 
Camino passed  along these cliffs.

Next stop was the lovely seaside town of Getaria where fishing boats were in the harbour, getting 
ready to head out to sea.

Iker brought us to one of his favourite places for lunch.   

There were so many irresistible pintxos lined up on the counter.

It was a dizzying array -- I couldn't decide what I wanted to eat.

But first a drink!   Iker knew exactly what he wanted us to try -- a glass of the local wine, txakoli.  This is native to the Basque region and the grapes that produce txakoli grow along the hillsides hugging the coast.  I loved this wine --  light, breezy with citrusy undertones.  So very refreshing.  
It reminded me of my other favourite -- lambrusco from Italy.  See the slight fizz on my glass of 
txacoli? Iker said the proper way to pour this wine is to raise the bottle to a certain height to further 
aerate and enhance the sparkle of this wine.

Txakoli went so well with my appetiser -- pudding de cabracho, a light mousse made of flaked
spiderfish mixed with cream and topped with homemade mayonnaise.  This was so creamy and delicate tasting  -- I think it can also work well as a pate or a spread not on the thick and crusty Spanish bread but perhaps on thin crackers or toast.

My dish of grilled pork loin was juicy and moist and the thin slices were so tender, I didn't really need a knife to cut them -- the edge of my fork was good enough.

This is Iker -- our very entertaining and enthusiastic Tours by Locals guide.  Iker was so passionate about his Basque identity and gave us a good introduction to Basque cuisine, culture, history and even politics.  A competent and professional guide can make a big difference in how you experience 
a new place  -- I know Iker certainly added to our enjoyment and understanding of the Basque country.

Lunch over,  this small cup of a lemon gelato was just the thing to cap off a delicious meal.

Jay was not satisfied and insisted on bigger servings.

After lunch, Iker drove us to see the vineyards that produce txakoli, just a few minutes drive
from the town of Getaria.  One minute we were walking through the old streets and a few
minutes later, we were looking down on these grape vines growing on the hills.
Very picturesque and lovely.  Perhaps next time we can do a proper winery tour where I can
drink as much txakoli as I can!

From Getaria and the vineyards we drove along a beautiful coastal road to the next town, Zarautz. The waves were quite strong and I was surprised to see young surfers in the water. 

We headed to the market where Iker pointed out the various labels of txakoli.  Only a couple of million bottles are produced each year and almost all of these are consumed within the Basque country.   I wish I could bring a bottle or two home with me but I don't think they'll survive
the plane ride home.

Txakoli is so easy to drink that it quickly became my new favourite .  Back in San Sebastian,
at Bar Manex near the hotel,  I had another glass.

This refreshing wine goes so well with seafood -- I ordered crab and shrimp pintxos, fresh
sardines and a morcilla, just to keep it interesting.

It was late afternoon and people were just starting to get into a cocktail kind of mood.  I liked Bar Manex, it was a friendly and welcoming neighbourhood bar.

The bartender suggested their special for today, fresh mushrooms lightly brushed with oil
and butter and grilled -- it was a great recommendation.

Our last night in San Sebastian and we headed back to the old town, to forage for more
pintxos.   San Sebastian's Plaza Mayor is surrounded by gorgeous archways -- such a
beautiful place.  There are many bars set up in the terraces where you can sit and have a drink.

There was just enough room for a few more pintxos and another glass of txakoli.
Tomorrow, we would be heading to Bilbao where we would catch the flight back home.
I knew that there would be txakoli in Bilbao, after all we would still be in Basque country.
Hasta mañana!

No comments:

Post a Comment