Why Bilbao is the PERFECT place for a FOODIE weekend getaway

23 02 2015

Barra Irrintzi 1http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-2955811/Basque-brilliance-Bilbao-perfect-city-Spanish-foodie-weekend-convince-wife-eat-fish-is.html Everything at hand, a very convenient city, medium-sized, excellent public transport, great food, extremely safe, beautiful surroundings….what else can you ask for? 101_7484 The Transporter Bridgepintxos counter

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8 days on a Basque Gastro Tour and in good company…beat it! – Part One

26 11 2014

I´ve had the great pleasure to enjoy a gastronomic tour in the Basque Country with a couple of Hong Kong friends…and moreover when the weather at the end of November has been incredibly warm and sunny 7 of the 8 days. Regrettably, some of the restaurants we had chosen as a first option were closed for holidays, but having a great meal has never been a problem in the Basque Country.

Just an hour after arrival, we arrived in Asador Etxebarri, one Michelin star, in the beautiful town of Axpe. The tasting menu consists of a wide array of dishes, all based on the mastering of the grill by Bittor Arginzoniz, the cook and owner. He has develop his own grilling technique and instruments, and so he´s able to grill an oyster, baby eels or a boneless steak. Product is mostly local or from his own garden. Service is friendly, close and very efficient. Two and a half hours of wonders in your mouth, at a reasonable price for a Michelin star if we compare it to those in the US or France, for example. Some pics:

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Next day we went to a very special place in the slopes of the hills surrounding Bilbao, the Kate Zaharra (in Basque, the Old Chain). A classic in Bilbao, it probably has the best views of town. When you enter, they offer you to visit the cellar, where you can choose your wine and enjoy some fresh cut ibérico ham, as well as some anchovies or other delicacies. Then you go upstairs to your table, where you can taste great grilled fish, clams, the freshest seafood…Product, product and product, and a lovely aftermeal upstairs where you can enjoy a drink of your favorite spirit and awesome views of the city.

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A visit to a medieval castle in the outskirts of Bilbao as well as to the amazing Old Town marked a perfect day for the three of us…

More to come…





How To Eat Pintxos Like A Local in the Basque Country

23 06 2014

Given the increasing number of tourists (don´t worry, the Basque Country is still a heaven for those that feel comfortable far from the madding crowds) that come to this gourmet´s paradise in search of the best pintxos in the world, please find below a few suggestions on how to eat pintxos like a local. Having experienced and seen lots of guests on my pintxos tours at a loss when faced with a counter full of these delicacies, I feel this post as a must for those that want to do it right:

1) Peek into the bar and take a look at its counter. If you don´t like what´s shown there, just look for another bar. There´re plenty.Barra Irrintzi 1

2) Yes, I know that in your native country you don´t have as many bars as we do here, and you tend to spend your time and money in just one for the whole evening. No, we don´t do it that way. We visit as many bars as possible.

3) We like to have ONE pintxo per bar, maximum TWO, and ONE drink.Ham and tomato on bread

4) We don´t have pintxos meals or anything of the kind. It´s an appetizer and not a meal. It´s meant to dilute the amount of alcohol in blood and facilitate conversation while standing close to the counter.

5) STANDING, we have them standing, we don´t sit down for pintxos. Please. Stand. Talk. Enjoy. But don´t seat.

6) Never, ever, accept the plate handed by the waiter. We locals just grab them with our hand from the counter. Or order them from the list on the wall to have them made on order.

7) We pay based on an honour system, that is, we tell the waiter how many we´ve had and he believes us. We don´t lie, ever. The toothpick thing (counting toothpicks as a proof of how many pintxos you´ve had) is nowadays an urban legend.

8) ALL pintxos are good, all taste great. Ibérico ham is good for your health and great for your heart and arteries. And yes, those fresh looking things are real anchovies, not that thing you have on pizza.Pintxos

9) There´s no such thing as “pintxos bars”. 99% of bars offer pintxos, all bars are “pintxos bars”.

10) Order a “zurito” (a third of a glass of beer), a “rioja” (a glass of red wine), a “blanco” (white wine) or a “cider” (natural cider, not fizzy). Ignore Coke or any other sweet drinks, they are not meant for pintxos.

11) Enjoy the atmosphere, ask the waiter about the pintxos, talk to strangers, throw napkins on the floor (YES!!!), pay on leaving, try different things, get a bit tipsy, enjoy this wonderful pintxos culture…pintxos counter





Txoko and Batzoki-II

19 01 2010

So you arrive into the Basque Country and notice that, unlike your country of origin, there are bars. Many bars, as in the rest of Spain (although our level of alcoholism is not higher to that of your country, paradoxically). Bars in Spain and in the Basque Country are places to socialize, to meet, to talk, to enjoy a small drink and a “pintxo” or “tapa”, but not to get drunk (at least, not their main target)…well, you already know this. So you enter in a bar, and find that there´s a lot of Basque memorabilia on it: flags, pictures of people in Basque berets and of traditional Basque sports, Basque symbols everywhere…welcome, you´re now in a “batzoki”, roughly translated, “the place to meet”. Batzokis belong to the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV-EAJ) and are everywhere…there´s one per town over 1000 people, at least. They serve as places where members of this party (over 100 years old and in power for 30 years, just until last year) like to have a drink and hold meetings. They are bars in the strictest sense of the word: entrance is public and you get the same as in every other bar. Famed for their excellent food, pintxos and low prices (not so low now), they are very popular, even among those that do not hold the same political views.

The new strategy of the PNV regarding batzokis is to modernize them with a mixture of traditional and very modern interior arquitecture, to offer excellent menus at very good prices and to win every pintxo contest held in the Basque Country. And a familiar atmosphere too.

The extreme left nationalist parties also have their “Herriko Tabernas” or “People´s Taverns”, much more radical in looks and many of them clearly supporting ETA violence (many are being closed now under the new laws that have ilegalize these parties). The socialist party has their “Casa del Pueblo”, “People´s Home”, also a bar but not as popular as batzokis.





Cider Houses – “Sidrerías”

11 01 2010

It´s now the start of the new “cider season”, meaning that the cider that was produced last year will be consumed during the next few months, before the season ends again at the end of April. It´s natural cider, with a low alcohol content (4º), fresh and still, no artificial anything added.

Most “sidrerías” are concentrated around Donostia-San Sebastián, in the Gipuzkoa province, although you can find them now in many other places in the Basque Country. Season begins with the traditional opening of the Kupela (huge cider barrel) by someone locally famous, and following the expression “The new cider has arrived”, the season is officially opened. All sidrerías offer a closed menu for around 25-30 euros, including cod omelette, peppers, t-bone steak, walnuts and cheese (with slight variations). It´s typical to have this menu standing or in long shared tables, and you can have AS MUCH CIDER as you want, it´s included in the price. Sometimes there´s singing of traditional songs and maybe some dancing.

For more info, www.sagardotegiak.com, also in English. It describes the process, the rites and lists the names of the most popular sidrerías.





Eating Schedules

16 11 2009

I know, I know…all of you are aware of those strange Spanish (and Basque) eating times: we have breakfast at standard hours, but lunch is never before 13:30 (01:30PM), and it´s quite complicated to find a restaurant open before 21:30 (09:30PM). Kids do have an extra meal right after school, between 17:00 to 18:00 (just a sandwich, a piece of fruit and a yoghourt). On weekends this schedule readapts to our way of life: breakfast, as everywhere else, is later. But then we have the “aperitivo”, which is around 13:00, and may consist of some glasses of wine together with some “tapas” or “pintxos” (I´ll come back later to the differences among tapas, pintxos and raciones). And yes, we then have lunch, around 15:00, which may last a couple of hours. And then, siesta…(which is not as common as you may think). Dinner on a Saturday evening may not start before 23:00 (11:00 PM) and not finish before one in the morning…or later.

Why do we have these odd (to you, that is) eating schedules? Well, the legend goes that at the beginning of the XX century, when workers started to claim their rights and gain more money and therefore social status, the “capitalists” changed their eating times so they would not share their meals with their workers. As a consequence, the workers wanted to look like their masters…so they also changed their schedules accordingly…….and everybody ended having their meals later than usual…

That´s why our banking and working hours, as well as educational time, is divided into two long sections of the day…..





Kaixo eta Ongi Etorri!!

16 11 2009

or Hello and Welcome, as we say in Basque. Welcome to this blog, where I hope to be able to show, and explain, and give details, and help, and…, all those aspects of interest related to the Basque Country and areas nearby. We are Basques, and very proud of it (sometimes a bit too much…), and a difficult people to understand (or at least that´s what we like to think of ourselves). Yes, you´ve probably heard about our desire for independence, our “bloody incomprehensible” language, our ancestral customs, our famed restaurants and pintxos, and so on. I´ll talk about it…and about many other things related to us.

(by the way, I´m not a native English speaker, so please be kind towards my many mistakes in grammar, syntax and English spelling…)