Traveling and eating just happens to be two of our favorite things! And for a great amount of people, travel also equals local food experiences. Hitting up the best restaurants in town, trying local specialties and just indulging into new flavors and good company. And to be honest it’s not always easy to find sustainable options while on the road. Well we found the perfect harmony while eating our way through the Basque Country where gastronomy and sustainability coexist perfectly and we are here to share it with you.
Keep it all natural and close by
Before we dive into the specifics we want to shine a light on an amazing initiative we came across in the Basque country: ‘Zero Kilometer products’. The name is somewhat self explanatory. It’s all about keeping the food chain as short as possible and keeping the products local. Another reason why you will probably fall in love with this region. And the best part is that everywhere you go there’s some delicious sustainable food waiting for you. Let’s take a look at what you can expect on a gastronomic excursion while eating your way through the Basque Country.
Pintxos in San Sebastian and Bilbao
First up Pintxos! You can’t go to the Northern part of Spain and not eat pintxos, it is literally impossible. Pintxos are basically the tapas of the Basque country, with that difference that tapas are usually plated on one big plancha and pintxos are more tiny dishes on their own. A Pintxo consists of a slice of bread with some delicious toppings and a toothpick to hold everything into place. Our first rendez-vous with this Basque appetizer was in the beautiful city San Sebastian.
So how do you score pintxos? You should head out to the small streets of the Old Town in San Sebastian. Pick out a bar on sight or try our suggestion called Atari. Or even better, pick a couple of them and go on a pintxos crawl. Normally there’s no need to make a reservation, but since covid, you might want to double check in advance. When you’re settled down and found the best spot just have fun with it and order whatever sounds good. But be careful you’ll end up wanting to order the entire menu. Our top favorites are the typical Basque-style green peppers, some croquetas and the Russian salad pintxo. Here’s a little insider tip: don’t forget to browse at the bar for more options because the real deal is often displayed on the counter and not on the menu.
Everywhere you go, you will probably find a Pintxos bar. But there’s one specific bar in Bilbao you should visit if you get the chance. We’re talking about Cafe Iruña in Bilbao. It’s the oldest bar in Bilbao going all the way back to 1903. You’ll find yourself right in the middle of an authentic night out in Basque Country.
Although the city is improving and trying to adept to the plantbased lifestyle. We have to admit that we’d love to see some more vegan options on the menu next time we visit. But the veggie ones we tasted where all very well received.
If you’re a big fan of cheesecake then you’re in for a real treat in the Basque Country. Until this trip we’ve never heard of the Basque cheesecake, let alone taste one. Imagine our faces when one of our guides took us to Pasteleria Otaegui in San Sebastian and let us have a taste of this Spanish wonder. It’s hard to describe it but, we’ll give it a try. Where as a New York style cheesecake is often a bit more robust and hefty, the Basque version is a lightweight delight that will allow you to fully enjoy every bite and maybe even go for seconds. It’s so fluffy!
Keep it local
During our trip through the Basque Country we found so many chefs who make it their life’s work to keep their menus local. We had the opportunity to talk with the chef of a restaurant called Enea. You’ll find it right outside the city center of San Sebastian, and its main focus is to make traditional dishes with a fun new twist. They work with small local producers and try to keep their produce within a 50 km radius. And a big bonus, the food is amazing!
We encountered so many people who were passionate about food and their local products. It was almost humbling to listen to their stories and visions they had for the future. We even came across an education center in a village called Ordizia. Where they explain the importance of cooking with produce according to the seasons, using local products and keeping it 100% natural. Educating the young minds of tomorrow is a great way to uphold the regions’ legacy of their gastronomic heritage. And we’re here for it.
Come and catch your cider
Something we learned while eating our way through the Basque Country is that cider is a big part of Spanish history. People started drinking it as a sort of medicine because they believed the cider had a lot of health benefits. It wasn’t until later people started to drink it at home for pleasure. Cider houses now often offer lunches and dinners accommodated with a cider tasting. Between January and April the cider brews in big wooden barrels. At the end of April the cider is bottled to enjoy the rest of the season.
Cider houses even have a beautiful tradition where they randomly yell ”txotx” during dinner. Which is known as the cue for when the cider barrels are open for public. When “Txotx” echoes through the corridors of the cider house, people queue up to the cider cellars where they try to catch a glass from the spout of the cider barrels. Unfortunately we didn’t got to see it with our own eyes, because we visited the Basque Country in September. We’ve only heard the stories with matching handgeastures. So if you want to experience this spectacle yourself, be sure to check the dates.
Going out with a bang
Going all out for our last meal in the Basque Country. Recognized with one Michelin star and a bunch of awards for sustainability, ENEKO took us on a mesmerizing trip. Not only was the food amazing but they also gave us a glimpse on what they’re doing to protect our nature and surroundings. They work with small producers, try to use the entire product and trying tot minimize waste by making broth with leftovers. They even took it to the next level and created the largest seed bank in the Basque Country to make sure their local products will be valued throughout time.
Not only in their food choices but also in the architecture of the restaurant they’re trying to sustain their vision. By putting up solar panels and using recycled materials they take on the responsibility of creating sustainable awareness. They even collect rainwater and use it for irrigation of their own greenhouse and even use it to clean the kitchen. A beautiful way to experience the passion of taste and getting a glimpse on how you can cook a better future.
So when you’re bouncing ideas around to select your next trip. Don’t forget to put the Basque Country in to the mix. Because while you are eating your way through the Basque Country, you will be in gourmet paradise.