Taking the food-lovers’ route through northern Spain is more than just a tour of some of the country’s most beloved places – it’s a feast for the eyes, the heart and the belly.
This delightful little city is located in Basque Country, which boasts five of the world’s top 30 restaurants. San Sebastián has more Michelin stars per square metre than almost anywhere else on Earth (only beaten by Kyoto, Japan), and the Old Town is famous for pintxos, tiny meals on toothpicks. The best place to source local food is La Bretxa, the city’s bustling market. La Brexta is a festival of colour, containing fresh produce, spices, herbs, gourmet meats and more. Be sure to pick up some of the local olive oil – and don’t miss the smoky chorizo.
Basque fishermen have been sailing the northern Atlantic since the 11th century, chasing whales and catching cod off Newfoundland. Cod, often heavily salted to preserve it on the voyage, known as bacalao, is a staple inSan Sebastián. So is the local Bay of Biscay hake, but not as we know the fish – it’s darker-skinned and firm-fleshed. Bacalao is cooked in pil-pil style, which is with gelatin and olive oil producing an emulsion, and how cooks will use the little-regarded but choice parts of the fish, such as the flesh from the “chin”. The flavours, along with the piperade, a capsicum stew, are concentrated and hearty – the dry, slightly sparkling local txakoli wine is a pleasant, and welcome, counterpoint.
To describe Barcelona vibrant city is a huge understatement. At the La Boqueria public market, stalls burst forth with colourful produce – from sweets to dried peppers – and offer a kaleidoscopic backdrop for the collection of wares ripe for the sampling.
A classic rich, hearty stew called cocido lebaniego is not to be missed. Containing black pudding, pork shoulder, chorizo, potatoes, cabbage and chickpeas, this is one rich dinner you won’t be forgetting anytime soon.
If you’re looking for a summery alcoholic beverage, try sidra, or Asturias cider, made only from the España Verde region’s small, tart apples, washed, chopped and left to ferment for about six months until it reaches 4.5% alcohol content. Light, musty and tart, it’s a long way from the overly sweet concoctions of our parts of the world. Traditionally poured from a bottle held above the shoulder into a glass held below the knee, it also goes very well with the Cabrales cheese. Spain, though, is better known for its wine. Particularly red wine. And red wine made from the tempranillo grapes in La Rioja, one of the country’s smaller provinces. Most production happens on vast commercial holdings scattered around the little capital, Logroño, but that’s not the way we do things on this trip.
Photography by Heidi Gallina