What a day-pintxo hunting with Ane Ibarzabal of San Sebastian Food, and finding six different bars to eat and drink. One interesting Basque discovery really.

You see we are in the old Basque town of San Sebastian (called Donastia in Basque), and it takes a little deciphering of what is being said, and what is actually going on. Thank goodness there is a week to settle in also.

And while we were walking around I discovered this town was razed to the ground in a fire in a three way fight between the Portuguese, Spanish and French in 1813. See the plaque. One older building survived.

Razing in 1813

Razing in 1813

As heartland of the Basques, there are Basque names (for example the bar above is a Gastroteka called Atari) everywhere; buildings, shops, pintxo bars, plates to order, street signs and more while the official language is Spanish.

So Ane is Basque (with a surname of Ibarzabal, what else) and she sets out with we ten: four Americans (one  studied at the University of Queensland) and six Australians (two live near Pau in the Pyrenees-Atlantique).

Just as grazing in bars is gaining momentum in Australian cities, the pintxo (tapas in Spanish) lifestyle is a part of this city; and each bar will have a few specialities. Ane was showing us these, and I could not wait for the beef.

As a patient lover of small and tasty morcels it did not take long for the first characteristic Spanish taste to arrive-the green pepper; mild devils cooked whole and piled on a plate, served with the local white wine drink, Txakoli.

The drama around txakoli of course is the pouring; held high with an aerator stuffed in the tall riesling-style bottle mouth, it is dribbled into wide-mouth tumblers to be downed as the oily peppers are chewed.

In a town which receives 1500 mm a year there is little chance of growing vines. Yet some survive 20 km away at Getariako to supply to local drop-txakoli, an acidic, 11%, neutral, frothy, mouth relieving wine made from hondarribia (also the Cognac grape folle blanche, and the French varieties gros and petit manseng are permitted.)

We go from bar to bar; without the detail there are many which engross the ample seafood nearby: prawn, octopus, cod, hake, cod and hake jowls (delicacy), northern salmon, anchovies of course.

Bovine and more protein: pork, even pig’s ear, beef, sheep, black pig in its preserved form, bellota jamon, veal, duck, ample use of local sheep cheese and surprisingly widely-offered freshly cooked livers (foie).

San Sebastian bar owners engage a lot with the regional wine grape varieties; at lot of verdejo from Rueda and viura blends in white, cabernet rose from Navarra and tempranillo coming from Toro, Ribera del Duero and Rioja.

Sirloin on pana: tempranillo

Sirloin on pana: tempranillo

There is no attention to the brand or year and rarely a wine list; just an accumulation of open bottles poured, all on ice. No sommelier.

San Sebastian is a food hub and any serious Mediterranean foodie should come here once in a lifetime. While the younger generations surf nearby on Playa de Zurriola.

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