April 7th 2016

Where can you eat some of the best food in France or Spain? The answer lies in the Basque country. In the extreme southwestern corner of France, this is where the Pyrenees descend to the Atlantic coast and where French suddenly becomes Spanish. With the culinary heritage of many, many centuries, these proud people with origins dating to well before the Roman empire, love and appreciate their food, which is as colorful as their history. Here men form private culinary societies and cook for their friends, their families and for themselves. The strength of Basque cuisine comes from the quality and range of local produce: cheeses and wild mushrooms from the mountains, meat, vegetables and fruit, including apples for cider making, from the caserios or farmsteads of the valleys. pays basque During the Middle Ages Basque adventurers ranged as far as Newfoundland, fishing for cod. Basques still eat four times as much fish as the average Frenchman and salted cod, or bacalao, one of the most traditional old methods of preservation, appears in a multitude of inventive, tasty dishes. From the country "cider houses," with their take on Spanish comfort food, to the urban "txikiteo" bars (Basque tapas), to the many Michelin-star restaurants, the Basque country represents the very best of European gastronomy. pays basque

What to look out for on a Basque menu:

Pintxos (pinchos) are the Basque version of Spanish tapas. Miniature masterpieces of color and flavor, they are ranged enticingly on the counter of each bar. A poteo is the civilized procession from one bar to another where you drink a glass or two of local wine and taste the designer delicacies as you go. Another classic Basque dish is piparrada (Spanish) or piperade (French). Sweet red or green peppers, roasted and peeled, are sautéed in olive oil, with tomatoes, garlic and onion, mixed with egg at the last minute as a dish in its own, or served as a piquant sauce with baked, grilled or roasted meats. A rustic fish stew like the classic marmitako, an oily-rich concoction of white-fleshed bonito and potatoes, usually cooked with tomatoes, garlic, and white wine in an iron pot. To drink: Try txakolí wine from the coastal region, which is light, slightly effervescent and fruity but dry. Reds are the predominant wines produced on the northern foothills of the Pyrenees in the AOC-certified wine region of Irouléguy. Or drink Basque cider served straight from the barrel, in a cider house. And chocolate! Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal created a chocolate and confectionery industry in Bayonne, some 400 years ago. High-class chocolateries still abound, as do shops selling the rainbow-colored, almondy macaron cookies. Join us in the Pays Basque for wonderful hiking and dining!

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