The old town

The old town

San Sebastian has been on my list of food places to visit for some time. I wanted to go with a few of us so that we could really do justice to the pintxos and last week that came to fruition.

The first thing that struck me was just how beautiful the city is, with impressive architecture, a river running through it and two magnificent beaches embracing the northern parts of the city. There is a vibrant energy and happiness about the place which I put down to the great food, drink and lifestyle. People openly embrace, hold hands when walking together and at times burst into spontaneous song. It is easy to get swept up in the optimism and enjoyment of life here.

Saturday lunchtime in the old town - spot the youth orchestra singing and dancing in the street!

Saturday lunchtime in the old town – spot the youth orchestra singing and dancing in the street!

I am told that the Basque people are an honest straight forward food loving lot and I guess that’s why I feel at home almost immediately. Don’t get me wrong, it is rowdy and rambunctious at times and there is the Mediterranean spirit flowing through that can intimidate a reserved Brit like me, but there is a central heart of happiness here that I love.

A typical bar of pintxos

A typical bar of pintxos

The pintxos experience is one that everyone must try and at first it is a little strange. You go into a bar that is resplendent with plates of food. There are no health and safety legalities here – everything is out there for as long as it is out there, uncovered and ready to be eaten. You ask for a plate, take what you want and there you have it. When it needs heating up it will be taken from you and returned microwaved and ready.  When you order specials from the menu they are speedily returned from what seems to be the teeniest of kitchens piping hot and glistening. Everything has to be washed down with a drink.

Pouring the perfect txakoli

Pouring the perfect txakoli

The local speciality is txakoli which is a very young white wine, poured from a heady height to encourage the sparkling character to fizz in the glass.

What amazes us is just how adept the bar staff are of keeping track of what you order. There is no need to pay at the time. You just add on more and more things and somehow they know what your bill is at the end. There is an air of trust because the Basque people would not dream of taking advantage or lying about what they owe. They are such straight up people. So it leaves you feeling free and trusted to embrace the food & drink and just take in the experience. It is loud, it is bustling and it is most definitely infectious.

Mushrooms at Ganbara (order the hongos con yema: mushrooms with egg yolk

Mushrooms at Ganbara (order the hongos con yema: mushrooms with egg yolk)

Another busy night at Bar Zeruko

Another busy night at Bar Zeruko

Knowing which bars to go to is an art in itself. Some places specialise in mushrooms (Ganbara) and others in steak (Gandarias) and of course prawns or gambas are widely featured whilst the modern molecular gastronomy is showcased at its best in Bar Zeruko. Then again the very traditional dishes served only to order from a blackboard at Bar Borda Berri were some of the best we had.

La Vina cheesecake

La Vina cheesecake

And you really do have to try the cheesecake at La Vina. I don’t think it is as delicious as my Mum’s but that’s not the point. They are generous in their portion, so sharing is most definitely recommended and that caramelised crust is yum.

If in doubt, the guys at San Sebastian Food in the impressive Hotel Maria Cristina are well versed in the right place for the right thing and their interest and passion shows through as they genuinely want you to enjoy their city and the food as much as they do. There is also an impressive shop full of locally sourced treats to take home.

Prawn & Egg the Bergara way

Prawn & Egg the Bergara way

A little off the beaten track over in the Gros area is Bergara which is not particularly well publicised in any of the articles that you see but is most definitely a choice for the locals (maybe they want it as their secret). This side is less well explored but everywhere we tried we enjoyed and this is where the Gintoneria lives, so what’s not to like?

You most definitely won’t starve in this city and I will forever marvel at the fact that food which stands on a bar and is then microwaved for your delectation can be such a fabulous food experience. But it just goes to show that simplicity and atmosphere can account for so much when you are enjoying a meal out. Get on a plane and fly here for a long weekend. It is so ideal and I will most definitely be coming back.

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