Inspired by the last blog on Andalucian food, I’ve embarked on a series of posts looking at the regional variations in Spanish cookery. I was going to write ‘cuisine’, but then I remembered that’s French rather than Spanish!
Situated near the French border, the Basque region is influenced by, but distinct from, its surroundings. Like Andalucia, the region’s coastal location provides an abundance of seafood. More often than not olive oil will be used for frying, which, of course, imparts a distinctive taste. There are Basque specialities that you won’t get anywhere else, and the south coast is famous for its citrus fruit; here apples and cherries are used in some impressive local dishes.
The Jewish influx from Spain and Portugal has given the area its renowned confectionery industry. In addition, the nouvelle cuisine of their French neighbours has been incorporated into the region’s cookery and this has resulted in a national movement, with other areas of Spain drawing similar inspiration from their northern neighbour. To this day, the Basque country produces award-winning food and influences tapas across the country. Gastronomy is not a niche interest in the Basque country: the inhabitants spend twice as much of their disposable income on food as Americans do, with men dominating cooking clubs to the general exclusion of women. To illustrate the point, there are over 2,000 restaurants in the city of San Sebastián.
The focus has moved away from heavier foodstuffs, but for a few months a year sagardotegiaks are open: cider houses that serve traditional still cider straight from the barrel, accompanied by a three course meal of cod, steak and cheese. Now that lunch may seem like an attempt to fortify yourself for a day’s labour, but normally Basque meals are lighter. Complex flavours and combinations of seafood, organ meat and unusual ingredients. Green vegetables and fruit accompany many mains, and a regional speciality is a soup of cherries poached in wine, turned syrupy with sugar.
A relatively undiscovered country, food-wise, Basque cookery is taken very seriously by its locals, and is a must for any aspiring gourmand (sorry, that’s French as well!).