Saturday, February 26, 2011

Basque Country

Last year, I was complaining that I wasn't taking full advantage of living in Europe to travel. Well, this year I guess I'm making up for it. We went to Lisbon for New Year's, and a couple of weeks ago, we took a long weekend and went to Bilbao and Donostia/San Sebastian for my birthday.

Guys, it was awesome. Two weeks later, The Limey and I keep are still remarking on what a great time we had and how perfect a break it was. We stayed in Bilbao and took a day trip to Donostia/San Sebastian. (Could also have done it the other way around, easily.) It's one of the places I've wanted to visit for ages, but I don't know why. (I once worked with a Basque guy, briefly; maybe that was it?)

I had a vague idea of seeing the Guggenheim, maybe learning a bit of the Basques, and, of course, doing what I most love to do: eat. And boy, did they deliver in this last category.

Pintxos, people, pintxos: a more elaborate, "foodier", pricier kind of tapas. If I could eat like that all the time, I would. All the bar counters, in pretty much all the bars, held plates and plates of little snack-sized finger foods. There were your standard tortillas and little crusty rolls with jamon iberico, but also beautifully cooked pieces of shrimp, mountains of teeny eels on beds of tuna, slices of grilled peppers or aubergine with or without lumps of soft cheese, translucent slices of bacalao with quail's egg, squid swimming in spicy olive oil. All served on or with bread (to make some of it easier to hold? or as a nod towards its tapas roots?), although for some pintxos, the bread seemed superfluous:I had a little bowl of two or three bites of squid ink risotto and one lovely mussel- the slice of baguette stuck into it seemed pretty pointless. Eventually, I stopped eating most of the bread 'cause I figured it was just cutting into my stomach capacity.

In Donostia/San Sebastian, they were a little more fancy about their pintxos than Bilbao and many bars offered a short pintxos calientes menu, so that certain dishes could be cooked to order. In this way, I had the most perfectly cooked scallop ever, some lovely octopus, and a piece of liver that was just...divine. It was seared on the outside and just warm on the inside and was so soft it was basically pate without the bother of having to be processed.

The great thing, for me, is that they serve drinks in smaller measures than over here, so I didn't feel like I was drunk by the time we got to the third or fourth bar.

I'd consider that I've found my gastronomic home, except for the sad lack of noodles. Honestly, The Limey and I just wandered around either eating, or waiting until we could eat. I guess in between we did manage a little bit of sightseeing.

If you get the chance to see this bit of Europe, go! The Limey and I would happily jump on a plane over there right now, but due to everyone and their relatives thinking this is the year to get married, all my holidays for the rest of the year are spoken for. On the plus side, at least some of those weddings will mean we get to travel and see places we haven't yet.


Lien said...

Looks wonderful! The food is reminding me of my trip to Spain. Especially the Jamon. There aren't that many places that sell it here in Sydney!

Sinéad said...

Wow. I had no idea Bilbao was so pretty! I don't know why, but I always had it in my head it was a much smaller city. It looks fab, and the food sounds amazing.