An Introduction To Basque Cuisine In 5 Dishes

Basque pintxos | ©Tamorlan
Basque pintxos | ©Tamorlan
Photo of Esme Fox
8 November 2016

The Basque Country sits in the northern part of Spain, running from the French border until just past the city of Bilbao. The region known for its unique culture, language, and, of course, food. The town of San Sebastián (known as Donostia in Basque) in fact holds a total of 16 Michelin stars, including three 3-Michelin-star restaurants. San Sebastián also has one of the highest number of Michelin-starred restaurants per square meter, beaten only by Kyoto in Japan and ahead of culinary giant Paris. While pintxos (small pieces of bread topped with various vegetable, meat, and fish combinations) are perhaps the most well-known Basque food, there are many more dishes to try.

1) Squid in its own ink

Seafood is, of course, very popular in the Basque Country, given its 200 kilometers of coastline, and squid is an all-time favorite. For this dish, baby squid is often used, then coated in flour and fried. The sauce comprises onions, tomatoes, and bread crumbs, and a bit of white wine. Once the sauce is cooked it is puréed and mixed with squid ink, then placed in an earthenware pot, along with the squid and cooked again until it thickens.

Squid in ink | © EwanMunro

2) Marmitako

This hearty tuna and potato stew is a classic Basque dish. As well as the obligatory ingredients of chunks of potatoes and pieces of tuna, it includes onions, green and red peppers, choicero (sun-dried peppers), tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil.

Marmitako | ©NúriaFarregut

3) Bacalao al pil pil

Salt cod is possibly one of the most famous Basque ingredients, and bacalao al pil pil one of its most famous dishes. A very simple recipe: it’s basically just cod fried in garlic and olive oil. By cooking it just right in a gently shaking frying pan, the gelatine-like oil from the cod infuses with the olive oil to make an emulsion, and thus the perfect sauce accompaniment. The dish is called pil pil because of the sound it makes when it’s frying and the oil is spitting, making the skin of the cod pop and crackle.

Bacalao Pil Pil | ©Jun

4) Alubias de Tolosa

Alubias are beans, which are found all over Spain and are used in many traditional types of stews. The town of Tolosa in the Basque region, however, is particularly known for its blackish, reddish alubia beans, and even holds an annual festival to celebrate the bean. Cooked in broth, they are usually served with pickled piparras (peppers), cabbage, morcilla (black pudding or blood sausage), and sometimes ham.

Alubias de Tolosa | ©SOPHOCO-santaorosiaPhotographicCollectivity

5) Pastel Vasco

This traditional Basque dessert can be found all over the region and comprises a thick spongy or slightly crunchy cake, filled with crème pâtissière and sometimes fruit as well. Cherries are typically used, although every bakery seems to have its own recipe and slightly different versions.

Pastel Vasco | ©PopoleChien

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