In 2012, Elena Arzak was named the Best Female Chef in the world. Arzak, the restaurant she runs with her father, was named the 8th best restaurant in the world in 2014 by Restaurant Magazine. The New York Times took a brief look into her world and this video provides a glimpse inside the kitchen of renowned chef, Elena Arzak.
A few days ago, I wrote about the latest edition of the top 50 restaurants in the world, and how the Basque Country had 5 of those restaurants.
At number 8 sits Arzak. Mark Bieter, who I’ve frequently linked to because of his wonderful way with words, has had the pleasure of dining at Arzak. In an article he wrote in 2012, he describes his experience: It’s just a restaurant, I thought, nothing to be afraid of. And yet standing across the street from it, I was a little afraid.
I’m not a foodie, as Mark also claims, but his description of his time at Arzak makes me think that even I might appreciate the wonders of a place like that.
I’m a man of simple tastes, seemingly from a long line of Uberuagas with similar levels of refinement. My dad would rather make sure he get his dollar’s worth at an all-you-can-eat buffet. And when I took my aunts, who grew up in rural Bizkaia, to the Guggenheim in Bilbao, and I asked them what their favorite thing was in the museum, they said “The frames (on the paintings) were nice.”
That said, even I can recognize the singular place that food holds in the Basque Country. I easily gain 15 pounds whenever I visit, partially because my family won’t stop shoving full plates of food in front of me every 15 minutes, but also because the food is simply so wonderful.
But there is food, and then there is food, and the Basque County excels at food in a way that few other regions in the world can boast. David Cox alerted me to the fact that Restaurant Magazine just released their 2014 list of the top 50 restaurants in the world, and the Basque Country has 5 restaurants on the list, 3 in Gipuzkoa and 2 in Bizkaia (Real fans, at least you win this one).
I’ve never eaten at any of these places, and don’t know when I will, but it is simply amazing to me that a region of the world that has less than 0.03% of the world’s population can have 10% of the world’s top restaurants.
In case some of you are looking for a gastronomical oasis for your next adventure, the Basque restaurants on the list are:
- #6: Mugaritz, Errenteria, Gipuzkoa.
- #8: Arzak, San Sebastian, Gipuzkoa (in 2012, Elena Arzak was named best female chef in the world).
- #26: Azurmendi, Larrabetzu, Bizkaia.
- #34: Asador Etxebarri, Atxondo, Bizkaia.
- #36: Martín Berasategui, Lasarte-Oria, Gipuzkoa.
If anyone has had the pleasure of dining at one of these restaurants, please share your experience!
I ran across a few articles dealing with food and wine in the Basque Country that I thought were particularly interesting.
First, in this article at Financial Times, Paul Richardson describes his adventures in San Sebastián’s Old Town, the Parte Vieja. The interesting spin here is a so-called pintxos passport. A company, San Sebastián Food, run by Englishman Jon Warren, provides, for the cost of €75, a “passport” pointing to a selection of pintxo bars in the Parte Vieja and wooden tokens that can be used to pay for the pintxos. The passport not only points you to the bars, but gives a write up both of the bar and the pintxos they recommend you order. You get your pintxo, hand over your token, and move on your merry way. It seems that drink is included in this. This might not be the most adventurous way of experiencing the Parte Vieja and the pintxo scene in Donostia, but it might give the solitary tourist enough motivation to explore what might otherwise prove a daunting facet of the Basque culture.
Next, archeologists in the Basque Country have excavated what appears to be a 10th century vineyard in the now-deserted village of Zaballa (incidentally, the surname of my grandmother, though it is a pretty common Basque surname). These two articles describe the discovery. The research was published in the journal Quaternary International. The study author, Juan Antonio Quirós-Castillo, describes the importance of this, and a related finding, in terms of the socio-economic history of the region. In particular, he says that understanding how the peasants of the region responded to regional economic changes provides a better understanding of the history of the region. It further sheds light into the economic conditions of the time, which have tended to be viewed as rather simple. These findings suggest that significant economic development, by way of vineyards and cereal fields, were occurring during this time. Because of their historical importance, the researchers are pushing for this and the sister-site to be named World Heritage Sites.
Here are some recent stories I found particularly interesting.
In September, Elhuyar will publish the 300th issue of its science journal, Elhuyar Zientzia eta Teknologia. The journal was created in 1974 to promote the use of Basque in technical and scientific fields. More info here.
Elhuyar is an organization named after the Basque Elhuyar brothers, who in 1783 isolated the element tungsten for the first time.
The Basque cycling team, Euskadi-Euskaltel, was in danger of loosing its sponsor, Euskaltel, the Basque telecommunications company. You might recognize the bright orange jersey the Euskaltel riders wear. Fernando Alonso, a formula one race car driver (who is currently second in the F1 world championship race), has agreed to take over the team. Alonso is also a past winner of the F1 championships. His involvement provides some assurance that the Basque riding team will continue on. More info here.
If you are planning a trip to the Basque Country any time soon, these two articles might give some inspiration. First, Alice Short writes in the LA Times about her adventure in the food of the Basque Country, from the now famous Arzak to a few random and pleasant discoveries. Then, Fiona Duncan describes her discovery of Biarritz, now a thriving surfing city, and the rest of the Côte Basque.
Dendrochronology is the study of the age of wood and is used to both identify the age and origin of wood, for example used to make boats. Dendrochronology has been used to identify the origins of a ship found in the bay of Newport, in the United Kingdom and it has been determined that the ship, indeed, had origins in the Basque Country. More info here.
My brother got married a couple of weeks ago (Zorionak Tony and Christmas!) and some of my dad’s family came over from Spain for the festivities, including my dad’s brother and sister, two sisters-in-law, and several nieces and nephews with their significant others. 13 in all, a large crew that made even the simplest of activities a challenge in coordination.
We started off with dinner at Louis’ Basque Corner in downtown Reno. We got there late as they had a long drive from San Francisco. So, we sat down and the courses started coming out — beans and chorizo, followed by salad, then lamb. By the time the lamb came out, they were starting to make noises about how much food it was, and we hadn’t even gotten to dessert yet…
…which takes me to an aside. Whenever I go to the Basque Country, every meal is a big event and each family wants to host one. For them, it is one big fancy meal hosting the American nephew/cousin, but for me it is a series of gorging fests and I literally put on 5-10 pounds after about a week. Plates and plates come out of the kitchen and I’m constantly told “come mas!” as I clean up all of the plates (ok, I enjoy the food, but the quantities are a little daunting)…
So now, the shoe is on the other foot, and they are being given American portions, which are typically bigger than other places, though in all, probably not any more than what I typically am fed in Euskadi. And they are complaining about too much food. The next few days continue the trend. We spend a few days in Tahoe where we made lunch and dinner. Cooking for 13 (and a few more) meant that much of the day was centered on preparing food and then eating. By the end of the day, they were wanting more time to do things and less time centered around food. Something I think all the time when I’m there.
One night, we went to a Japanese restaurant for dinner, one of those where the cook prepares the food right in front of you. He put some oil on the grill and lit it. A big fire ball flared up, and my uncle jumped back in his seat in surprise. But, even worse was when he asked where the bread is. I responded “no hay pan” and the look on his face couldn’t have been worse if I had just shot his favorite dog. He was truely horrified. Though, in the end, he did adapt (though I had to finish his dinner! Too much food again! I can’t count how many times I’ve been told, in Euskadi, to eat more and you won’t have to eat tomorrow).
Don’t get me wrong, I love my family and enjoyed spending these few days with them. My dad spent many hours playing Mus with his nephews and had a great time. And it was really nice getting to know my cousins and their significant others better. Being “confined” with them meant much more interaction than I normally get in Euskadi. But it was entertaining to see the shoe on the other foot and them getting a taste of their own medicine, so to speak. I’m not sure they really saw it that way, I guess we’ll see the next time I visit them in the old country!