San Sebastian and the Art of Eating

On the night of September 11, I arrived in San Sebastian, Spain, which is on the northeast coast of Spain, in Basque country, and close to France. The Basques have their own language, which is quite difficult and very unusual. I think it is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, spoken language today. The minute I arrived here, I knew this is a place I will return for holidays in the future. It is a resort town, but that is not why it exists. Basque culture is prevalent and “real” people actually live here and go about their business regardless of the tourists. It is rare to find a beach town like this. Last night I went for a walk at sunset along a promenade that extends beyond the beach around the small mountains. Today when I was on my run, I saw waves breaking, and in the spray above them, rainbows — I have never seen anything like that before. Some pictures of sunset and some general photos of San Sebastian are below:

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Basques take food very seriously. They have a saying that they have big bellies to protect the most important organ — the stomach. I take back what I said in a previous post about avoiding eating food with toothpicks from a bar. Pintxos, the Basque word for tapas, are served like that and they are amazing. The best pintxos are caliente (i.e. served hot and made to order). Typically, when going for pintxos, Basques will hop from one restaurant to the next, allowing themselves only one serving from each restaurant. It is a bit difficult going out for pintxos at night by myself, because to order, I have push my way to the bar and either grab what I want and pay later or scream across to the insanely busy barman to place an order for pintxos calientes. Between that and the language barrier, it is a struggle! People either eat at the bar, basically on top of all the cold pintxos set out (different standards of food regulation!) or find a standing table somewhere inside or outside. Unfortunately because it is so crowded and overwhelming, it is hard to savor anything. These are some fairly typical pintxos (anchovies, mushrooms, crab, cod, and as always, Iberian ham are popular):

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Today for lunch, I went to a pintxos restaurant called A Fuego Negro (“a black fire”). This particular restaurant is known for being very innovative and it was incredible. Although it is more common to have pintxos for dinner, I found it much easier at lunch because it was less crowded, I had a seat at the bar, and the barman was really friendly (even though he didn’t speak a word of English and we each had no idea what the other was saying). I had three dishes that were interesting and great, and a zurito (pronounced thoo-ree-toh), which is a mini beer. The first dish I ordered was a Kobe beef burger (remember everything is a mini portion) with a ketchup infused bun. This particular dish from this particular restaurant had been recommended to me by two people before I left for the trip. The burger was served with a few plantain chips. Next I had a trio of crab, avocado, and licorice flavored ice cream. My guidebook recommended it and it was delicious and bizarre. Finally, I asked the bartender, in broken English/Spanish combination (Basque is impossible) to choose my final dish. He brought out a glass with red on the bottom, foam above it, and some sort of nut sprinkled on top. I am still not entirely sure what I ate, other than the fact that there were two mussels on the bottom surrounded by a slightly sweet tomato and pepper based sauce. I don’t know what the foam is and am not entirely sure about the nuts either. However, it was fabulous. Unfortunately, I did not use a flash for these photos so they are not as vivid as they should be.

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3 thoughts on “San Sebastian and the Art of Eating

  1. Your photos are outstanding! Between the food and the setting, I wish I was with you ( I’ve never screamed an order, either). Let Calvin Trillin settle for the Village and Chinatown.

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