A Bask In The Basque Country
Sitting on top of sunny Spain like a culinary cultural crown is the autonomous community of Basque. Officially the “Basque Autonomous Community”, this bustling hub of activity is comprised of 3 distinct provinces: Álava, Biscay, and Gipuzkoa. Each with their own distinct geographical features but joined in the food-centric cultures and traditions.
If you’re a dedicated steak lover then you’ll already know all about The Basque Country, you may even have visited at one point. But, if this is the first time you’ve heard of this wonderful place, you’ll no doubt be planning a trip soon.
The Basque Country is famous for its food. Its culture is steeped in traditions and methodology that revolve around the preparation, cooking, and enjoying of their fine local cuisine in all of its forms. On a typical Basque dinner table, you will find such delicacies as salted cod, sheep and goats cheeses, piquillo peppers, and some of the finest steak you’ve ever had the pleasure of beholding.
Steaks in The Basque Country are the real stars of the show. They are served in thick slabs of meat that would not look out of place on the Flintstones and are traditionally cooked over large charcoal-fuelled grills. This gives them an almost crispy sear that is packed with flavour and texture.
That’s not what makes Basque steak truly something special though, something that thousands of people make a pilgrimage to every year just to try, a steak that will not only thrill your palette with an intensity of flavours almost unheard of anywhere else but also provide a feast for your eyes with intense marbling and a fat rind that is as bursting with flavour as it is crackling with texture.
The real secret behind the legendary Basque steak can be found in the cows it is produced by.
Rubia Gallega or more simply the “Galacian Blond” is a breed of cow and oxen that are specifically reared to produce some of the finest quality steaks available. The Basque locals call this steak Txuleta (Choo-letah) and it is revered for its deep maroon colour, yellow-tinged fan, and sublime marbling. What sets these animals apart from your regular beef-producing bovines is that they are cared for and raised right up to the mature age of 18 years old. Not much for a human but, on average, farmers in the UK will slaughter before the age of 3 so, in cow terms, 18 years old is positively ancient. By the time their 18th birthday rolls around, these creatures have grown unusually large and muscular thanks to the years of free-range grazing on delicious and nutritious Basque grass glades.
If we’ve piqued your pallet with tantalising tales of Txuleta then check out our other article where we focus on this magnificent meat. For now though, back to Basque.
While The Basque Country does not have an official capital city as an autonomous community, its foodie capital is most certainly San Sebastian. It’s a city built on the historical monuments of the old world and the glistening modern buildings of the new. What remains the same though, is its status as a renowned hotspot for food lovers in every corner of the globe.
Speckled along the stunning golden sands of Bahia de la Concha bay you will find many small bars and restaurants that serve up some of the delicious local cuisines. The most popular being Pintxos which is simply prepared, small portions of local food served on bread and enjoyed en masse by the locals and the tourists.
Its not all side street bars and hole in the wall restaurants though, San Sebastian is also peppered with restaurants that have achieved the world-famous Michelin stars. Among them are steakhouses and pintxos bars such as Gandarias Jatetxea, Bar Nestor, Casa Urola, and Atari Gastroteka.
While all of these restaurants offer a fantastic selection of delicious food, full-bodied wines, and sumptuous desserts well deserving of their Michelin stars. Bar Nestor is certainly the most renowned and perhaps even the most celebrated so we’ll focus on there for now.
Bar Nestor provides some of the best Txuleta steak available.
It is served alongside traditional accoutrements such as tomatoes and pádron peppers or “Ensalada de tomate, pimientos de padrón, txuleta”. Before you make your order, the selection of Txuleta cuts are presented raw so you can pick which one you would like for your meal.
The steaks, in traditional Txuleta fashion, are thick cut and juicy with plenty of flavourful meat for two people so, if you’re going solo in San Sebastian and plan a trip to Nestors then it may be an idea to skip lunch.
Heavily seasoned with local salt, the Txuleta steaks are cooked perfectly with a dark brown sear and a centre cooked to your preference (although the traditional level of doneness would be almost blue by our standards).
Believe it or not, though, these steaks are not the main draw to Bar Nestor. The thing that draws crowds and queues down the street is actually their tortilla.
You must place your name on a list early in the morning to reserve just a single slice of Nestors tortilla and crowds of almost 50 people can gather during the brief window when the list is available. Notwithstanding the veritable feeding frenzy that erupts when the tortilla is actually produced from the kitchen. It’s safe to say that any trip to San Sebastian would not be complete without a visit to Bar Nestor's hallowed tables and stalls.
The Autonomous Community of Basque Country may be deeply embroiled in Spanish politics and it may even lack an official capital city but what it certainly does not lack is some of the finest food, the most beautiful sights, and the most welcoming locals you could ever hope to find on your foodie adventures so, when we eventually get the all-clear, keep the sunny crown of Spain in your travel itinerary.