Category Archives: Food

Some food and wine to get you through

I ran across a few articles dealing with food and wine in the Basque Country that I thought were particularly interesting.

pintxo-passportFirst, 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.

ancient-vineyard-617x416Next, 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.

Basque News Roundup

Here are some recent stories I found particularly interesting.

elhuyarIn September, Elhuyar will publish the 300th issue of its science journal, Elhuyar Zientzia eta TeknologiaThe 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.


biarritz-pier_1809855cIf 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.

MARIA-NEWPORT-SHIPDendrochronology 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.

The Basque Shoe on the Other Foot

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.

wedding-louisWe 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)…

wedding lunchSo 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!

Binging on a Basque Bounty

dad-txorizerosdad-garlicA few weeks back, I flew up to Idaho to visit my parents. As I’ve written about before, my dad, once I left home for school (coincidence, or something more…?) started to make chorizo and jamon. He’d never done that before. Sure, he had his massive garden full of txurizeros (txuritxeros? That’s the way he says it…) He’d fry those suckers up whenever he got the chance. I’ll be honest, I hate those damn things. They taste nasty and they smell nasty. But, they are good for flavoring chorizo. And jamon. After the txorizeros, the most abundant crops are tomatoes and garlic. Mom and dad braid the garlic for friends, keeping some for flavoring the meat that will later become the chorizos.


Whenever I return home, dad breaks out the jamon and the chorizo. I make up in a few days the lack of Basque meat I’ve suffered over the previous six months. This trip was no exception. Dad had something like 20 jamones hanging from the rafters of his garage. While I was there, a buddy of his came by to pick up a couple so we spent the morning cutting and slicing (and eating more than a few of those slices) two 18 pound hams. Dad’s jamon has gained a reputation in the greater Treasure Valley. I’ve heard stories of Basque chefs claiming that dad’s ham is as good as anything in Spain (well, ok, minus those acorn-fed ones, but those are too damn expensive…)


I think every morning I had chorizo with fried eggs cooked in chorizo grease. That might sound a bit nasty, but I swear it is one of the best ways to eat eggs.

(Yeah, I know that is red txorizero juice my eggs are swimming in. But, dammit, you just can’t taste the txorizeros in the chorizo!)

I probably had chorizo 2-3 meals a day. It’s almost like visiting the Basque Country — I must have gained 5 pounds in 3 days. Mind you, I’m not complaining — the food was excellent and I certainly didn’t stop at just one (or two) chorizo. But, it is maybe a good thing that dad lives 1000 miles away, otherwise I think I’d be in the hospital having a stent put in to open my arteries enough to let the little bits of chorizo course through my body. Though, on second thought, maybe it would be worth it.

David Rios wins World’s Best Barman with “Basque Punch Gold”

IMG-20130412-WA0004Not that I knew such a competition even existed, but David Rios, who owns a bar, with his brother, in Barakaldo and is planning to open a second one in Bilbao, has won the world competition for the best cocktail. His winning drink, El Ponche de Oro Vasco in Spanish or Basque Punch Gold in English (I haven’t seen what the drink is called in Euskara), consists of “Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve whisky, pineapple juice, grenadine and soda, adorned with an orange slice, anise and mint” (I don’t know if the full recipe has been released, though there do seem to be plans to release a book of his cocktails). The prize, the Diageo World Class Competition, is considered the Oscar of Cocktails. This is the first time someone from Spain has won (though I think only 6 competitions have occurred).

I’ll admit, I’m a beer drinker, maybe kalimotxo as well, definitely not a hard liquor drinker, but maybe if I happen to be in Barakaldo some day, I’ll have to try to find Cafe Kobuk and see what the fuss is about. David’s talents can also be sampled at The Jigger Cocktail in Bilbao.

Marraskiloak: Christmas Snails

journal.pone.0065792.g002My wife sent me this interesting article about the migration of snails to Ireland. The article, which summaries this study in PLOS ONE, concludes that a specific species of snails made its way from the Eastern Pyrenees to Ireland maybe 8000 years ago. Granted, today, the eastern part of the Pyrenees is not Basque — it is Catalan — but 8000 years ago, who knows for sure. Likely, there was some Basque influence in the region, or at least proto-Basque influence, as described in this Wikipedia article. One might conclude, then, that somehow Basques, or proto-Basques, brought snails from the Pyrenees to Ireland as they explored and maybe settled Ireland. Maybe snails have something to tell us about the wanderings of prehistoric Europeans.

This, of course, brought to mind a story about snails. I first visited the Basque Country, during the 1991-92 school year as a student in Donostia. snailsSo, this was my first Christmas away from home and my dad’s family — his sister, her husband, and two kids — invited me to join them in Peñíscola for the holidays. Having nothing else to do, I of course said yes. In preparation, we went into the hills outside of Ermua and collected marraskiloak — snails. It seems that snails, cooked in a tomato-based sauce, is a Christmas tradition, at least with my dad’s family, if not more widely. We took the snails with us to Peñíscola and, on the big day, my aunt prepared them, much like in the photo (swiped from this site). To eat the snails, you grabbed a shell and dug out the “meat” (I’m not really sure I want to use that word in association with snails, but I guess that’s what it technically is…) with a toothpick. You then plopped the “meat” into your mouth, chewed it up, and went for another.

Now, I don’t really recall how they tasted — it’s been over 20 years — but I do remember that as I was eating them, I ate one that tasted funny, even for a snail. Compared to the others, it just tasted off. However, not knowing better, I ate it and continued on to a few more. It wasn’t long before my stomach was rebelling against me, and not simply for eating snails in the first place. That one snail exacted revenge on my poor Americanized tummy for it and all of its comrades that had been sacrificed for our Christmas meal. Or maybe it was for dragging its ancestors to cold Ireland.

Needless to say, that was the last batch of snails I’ve had the pleasure of trying.