San Sebastián, or Donostia to the Basques, is located on Spain’s north coast in the Basque Country and has become well known for its excellent cuisine. Home to countless Michelin-starred restaurants, pintxos bars, fresh food markets and gourmet food shops, here are our eight reasons why San Sebastián is the food capital of the planet.
That’s higher than any other city in the world, apart from Kyoto in Japan, and way higher than the likes of Paris or New York.
Three of San Sebastián’s restaurants have been awarded one of the highest honours there is in the world of food – a prestigious three Michelin stars. These three top-notch restaurants include Akelarre, Arzak and Martín Berasategui.
Being located right on the coast, along the Bay of Biscay, San Sebastián is in a prime location and has access to the freshest seafood. Some of the city’s most iconic dishes in fact are based around seafood and include bacalao pil pil (cod fried in olive oil until the skin becomes crispy and the juices emulsify), pecebes (goose barnacles), squid in its own ink, and kokotxas (cod or hake cheeks).
Basque-style tapas are known as pintxos and are usually small pieces of bread, topped with a variety of different ingredients – anything from Spanish ham, prawns and anchovies to cheese, chorizo or wild mushroom croquettes. They are usually speared with sticks and placed along the bar for diners to come and help themselves, and cost between €1-3 each. At the end of the night, your sticks are counted up, and you pay your bill. San Sebastián is the king of pintxos, home to many varieties of places selling them from classic old-style eateries to innovative new gastro bars.
San Sebastián’s Arzak restaurant was named at number 21 on the list of the ‘World’s 50 Best Restaurants‘ in 2016. Its classic Basque kitchen has been serving the people of San Sebastián for four generations and is headed up by chef Juan Mari Arzak and his daughter Elena Arzak. The restaurant’s motto is that it’s a place to eat, to know and to experiment.
Eating for most Spaniards is a way of socialising and spending quality time with family, and nowhere is this more true than in San Sebastián, where going out with friends or meeting up with family almost always means dining in a restaurant, cooking at home or hanging out in pintxos bars.
Fresh, quality produce is what San Sebastián’s food scene is all about, and the best places to discover it (or pick up some of your own) are the markets of San Martín and La Brexta. Produce at these two are seasonal and local, sourcing the best ingredients from around the region, such as beans from Tolosa, guindilla peppers from Ibarra, Txakolí de Getaria wines and Idiazábal cheese. Some of the top restaurants in the city source their ingredients from these two markets.
While Basque seafood dishes and pintxos are now becoming well known, its desserts are still background; however, this doesn’t mean that they don’t do some excellent ones. Pastel Vasco and pantxineta are just two of the most delicious you should try. Pastel Vasco is a kind of tart, with spongy-like pastry wrapped around a vanilla or almond cream (cherries are sometimes added, too). Pantxineta, on the other hand, is made from puff pastry, filled with custard and topped with almonds.