it's been a while since my last post! now how many times have i written that. i've been busy... work, school, worrying about finding a new job, trying to get out of my uninspired cooking cycle. so i went on a short vacation. 1 night in madrid, 3 nights in san sebastian, and 1 last night in madrid. those layovers in the capital city of spain turned out to be some good nights with well-deserved partying... but the highlights of my trip definitely took place in basque country.
something as simple as a bar snack became an otherworldly experience for me. the local drink of choice, txakoli, was a refreshing (almost carbonated, the way bartenders pour it from so high!) white wine that helped me cope with the heat. but apparently you don't go to a bar in san sebastian solely to drink; you go there to be social. and as i'm sure everyone knows, food brings people together.
the pintxos (or tapas) at this mom-and-pop type pub tasted like a few more zeros should have been tacked onto the price. luckily my couchsurfing host led the way for lunch this time. the specialty of goiz-bargi is cooked-to-order skewered shrimp with a salsa-ish sauce. it tasted complex, light and fresh at the same time. but if you end up at this bar, i beg you not to limit yourself to the shellfish. just about everything on the table looked mouth-watering, and the items i ended up choosing were just that.
even the humblest cold pintxo that was offered at their table was a hundred times better than any sad excuse for 'tapas' that i have eaten before. the way the food was served so unpretentiously just impressed me even more. it was as if i was in a diner, ordering a plain old grilled cheese sandwich from a washed-out waitress. only it was like the best tuna-chili-bellpepper-sardine sandwich ever.
i followed my host to the next bar with a different vibe. astelena was still as packed as the first, but it looked a bit more like an actual bar for the boys than a restaurant. we stood at the counter since claiming a table or barrel top would have been mission impossible (or at least mission 'wait for a table instead of silencing the stomach growls') but i think i like the counter best. orders are placed there anyway so there's no reason to waste precious foodtime walking back and forth. (;
out of the specials on the blackboard i went with beef cheek. it was melt-in-your-mouth tender and the flavour was intense. along with the brown sauce on top there was some flavoured olive oil and a tiny pineapple slice. i am not a big meat-eater but WOW. at this moment, i realized i can never become vegetarian. well, at least not when i am in basque country.
one of the only regrets during my stay was not ordering the frogs legs. like the other raw items on display, they are cooked to order. unfortunately(?) i had already eaten a fish+bread pintxo and a croqueta de bacalo (a fried orgy of white fish, potatoes, and probably cheese or cream) in addition to the beef cheek. my stomach was full and it was time for a siesta. which i urge you to take seriously in spain! i can count the number of times i've ever been sunburnt on one hand, and san sebastian granted me another finger. at one point i was walking along the beach in the afternoon when i suddenly felt dizzy and nauseous. luckily i found some shade before i had the opportunity to pass out from heatstroke. so remember: SIESTA.
my favourite discovery in this beach city is easily txubillo. when i read the menu outside and saw "japanese-basque bar" of course my first reaction was wariness of bad fusion food. boy, was i ever wrong. thank goodness my host was living in the area or else i never would have wandered into this place. here i ordered the first thing on the blackboard with a word i could recognize: ajo. it means garlic! those who are close to me are well-aware of my love of garlic; and they probably tolerate it since they remain close to me. :P
bacalao gratinado con crema de ajo is a white fish that's baked in garlic cream. there were some vegetables hidden underneath but i honestly didn't notice their flavour as i ate this dish. my mouth was in garlic heaven, or rather it was inside my mouth. though it was creamy, the fish didn't sit heavy in my stomach at all. in fact, i washed it down easily with another class of txakoli. (;
a japanese woman was enjoying a platter of beautiful sushi next to me. though i'm sure it was as perfect as the cooked offerings, come on... i didn't come to this city to eat sushi. when i come back to san sebastian, this is the first place i want to revisit for lunch! the other menu offerings were very tempting, but i was full after one dish since we had already been to another bar. it's the local style to have a couple pintxos/drinks at one bar and move on.
on my last day in san sebastian, i was alone. i wandered the old part of the city with the rest of the tourists. eventually i found myself at goiz-bargi again. mom and pop smiled when they recognized me and let me get a few eurocents off my bill when i didn't have correct change. on the lookout for the next bite, i noticed almost every fourth or fifth bar i passed had a sticker that read michelin star recommended. that meant almost nothing to me here since the food in every bar or restaurant was such good quality. i wonder if it means anything to the locals? this simple-looking pintxo was from a place with such a sticker; bar martinez. sadly, i left after eating two more pintxos; right as the bartenders starting bringing out some very interesting dishes. i'm sure those tasted slightly more complex than the already stunning food i had eaten... but i had a very full stomach and a flight to catch.
my host was a sweetheart and a cool guy to hang out with, but of course he has a life of his own and i couldn't tag along all the time. san sebastian was a little lonely for me then. although all the people that attempted to talk to me were very polite and friendly, most of them seemingly spoke every major language except english. if i spoke spanish i'm sure that i would have made a few friends there. maybe next time. and there WILL be a next time. this city changed my feelings on food for good.