Three-course meal, Basque-style
Whenever I've talked to someone about San Sebastián, they always seem to be on the verge of a mini orgasm. I have also noticed an interesting correlation. Of all the people who have told me about this place, 100% of them are food lovers. They have planted in my head that San Sebastián was the equivalent of a gastronomic heaven. After all, this Northeastern city of Spain is very well-decorated with Michelin stars.
It's inevitable that I will have to step foot in San Sebastián at some point. Nature conspired to make that time sooner rather than later. Recently, I got an email from Marianne - my BBFFF (Beautiful Best Foodie Friend Forever) and a soul sister from San Francisco - asking me to meet her there during her month long sojourn throughout Spain. I cancelled all of my original plans and bought air tickets for a culinary catch up with her in the Basque country.
Derrek and I flew into Bilbao because he was very keen to check out the infamous Guggenheim museum. I am not a Gehry fan. I was VERY ready not to be impressed, but this work of his is truly mesmerising. My natural reaction upon first seeing the building was "Wow."
Bilbao has a unique blend of old and new. The "Bilbao Effect" has prompted many well-known architects to put their own stamp on the city, resulting in many modern buildings around town. Contrasting with this outburst of modernity, just a short one minute walk from Calatrava's cool-looking bridge, you can step back into an old picturesque neighbourhood. At one of the corners of Albia Garden, you can find Cafe Iruña founded in 1903.
The cafe looked to me as if it had been influenced by moorish design as it was filled with colourful mosaic work. I was in my element sitting in the old world people watching.
After a day of admiring Bilbao's food and beauty, we took an hour long bus trip to San Sebastián, where Marianne greeted us at our lovely Airbnb apartment. This is, for the next three days, the place we retreated to from walking, eating and drinking. Those are really the only three activities we did in San Sebastián.
In the morning, we fuelled ourselves with coffees and pastries from the coffee shop next door. We then walked around randomly untill an appropriate hour for our first glass of Txokali. We "Pintxo crawled" for most of the afternoon, munching our way through tasty canapés before taking a break to wander around the beautiful city.
In San Sebastián, you quickly realise that anywhere you eat will be good. So, we ditched the pre-planned restaurant list and stopped at the first place that looked good to us. Thanks to Marianne's Spanish skills, our next stops were then suggested by locals whom we asked for good eateries to try.
At Bernado Etxea, I got a chance to put the best thing that has ever come from the sea in my mouth. Percebe (Basque for Goose Barnacles) is an alien-looking seafood, which I've never seen before.
If a razor clam, a squid and a soft-shelled crab had a threesome, the offspring would be Percebe. A delicious, soft, salty and squishy little thing. Many would get turned off by looking at this creature, but not us. In this case, there really was more than what met the eyes. I was in love.
There were simply no bad meals in San Sebastián. I feel as if the Michelin Star system doesn't do this city justice. If my star counts for anything, I'd give every place a million each. Why stop at three!
Every meal is different and beautiful in its own right. My stomach had started to trick my brian into contemplating real estate prices in this food heaven.
On our last day, we drove back to Bilbao. We chose a longer, but much more beautiful route, along the Northern coast of Spain and stopped at Lekeitio, a charming fisherman village, for lunch.
We sat ourselves at a small restaurant by the sea, where the menu is written by hand, a bowl of soup can feed five people and the sepia doesn't really need any seasoning. A perfect ending to our epic catch up.
And so my trip to the Basque country felt like an exhilarating three-course meal. Bilbao as appetiser with a major wow factor. San Sebastián was the main course, packed with interesting flavours in every bite. I would have been happy to just end there, but I'm glad we didn't. Lekeitio was a really sweet jewel of a dessert with a cherry on top.