The Basque Country, or Euskal Herria as it is known to its inhabitants, encompasses three provinces of France and four of Spain. The origins of the Basque people are unknown, but it is likely that they have inhabited the region since prehistoric times.
Like the Basque language, which is distinct from any other known language, Basque cuisine is unique and superb. Its major focus is on fresh, well-prepared dishes using local, seasonal ingredients.
Food is an integral part of Basque culture, so important that gastronomic societies, where men meet to cook, eat and engage in other social activities exist throughout the country.
Breakfast is a light meal, often accompanied by cafe con leche, or coffee with milk. Dinner, the major meal of the day is usually served at in the mid-afternoon. It often includes soup and several other courses served with wine. Supper is served at 9:00pm and is a lighter meal than dinner.
Basque dishes are not based on elaborate sauces or spice combinations. The excellence of Basque cooking is due to the use of high quality, local ingredients in season, combined with preparation that enhances, rather than masks, the natural flavor of the food. The most important ingredient in Basque cuisine is the fresh ingredient.
The Basque Country borders on the Atlantic Bay of Biscay, and its people have a long history of seafaring. Seafood is one of the mainstays of Basque cuisine. Cod, hake and fresh tuna are popular, although more unusual dishes are also served, using bream, elvers or other types of fish and seafood.
Dried beans are another staple of Basque cuisine and are especially common during the winter months. The traditional broad bean has become largely replaced by the haricot bean. Several excellent varieties of beans are grown in the Basque Country, including the Alubias de Tolosa. A variety of other vegetables are used in Basque cuisine including peppers, peas, green beans and potatoes.
Fish and Seafood
Bacalao a la Vizcaina - Cod in Pepper Sauce A rich dish from salt-cod in a red pepper sauce.
Merluza en Salsa Verde - Hake in Green Sauce A traditional dish made from hake in a sauce that derives it green color from parsley.
Marmitako - Tuna Stew There are many variation of this classic seaman's stew although fresh tuna, potatoes, onions and peppers are usually included. It is named for the pot in which it is cooked, the marmita.
Besugo a la Brasa - Grilled Sea Bream The bream is grilled whole or split open over a charcoal fire. The fish is sometimes sprinkled with vinegar before serving.
Txipirones en su Tinta - Squid in their own Ink
Squid are prepared in a sauce of onions, peppers, tomato and their own ink, which is toxic until it is cooked.
Vegetable and Legume Dishes
Menestra - Braised Vegetables Traditionally Navarrese, this dish is now served throughout the Basque Country. Especially popular in spring, it consists of a mixture of vegetables which often includes peas, asparagus and artichokes as well as other vegetables.
Pimientos de Gernika - Fried Green Peppers A specialty of the Bizkaian region, Gernika peppers, named for the area in which they are grown are lightly fried in olive oil and pressed flat before serving.
Alubias de Tolosa - Beans from Tolosa The dried beans are cooked slowly in an earthenware pot with garlic and olive oil. This dish is usually served with cabbage. The beans of Tolosa are well known and the city of Tolosa holds a bean cook-off each year.
Pochas con Codornices - Fresh Haricot Beans with Quail A specialty of Navarre, pochas are beans that are harvested before being completely dried. Besides the beans and quail, tomatoes, a pepper and garlic and are also usually added. The title of the dish always lists the beans first, a symbol of the importance of the beans.
Meats, Cured Meats and Poultry
Jambon de Bayonne - Bayonne Ham The lightly smoked Bayonne ham is a specialty of the area of the Basque Country located within France. Tender and sweet, the ham comes from the Black and White Basque pig. It takes a year to cure the Bayonne ham.
Porrusalda - Leek Potato Soup One of the traditional Basque soups, Porrusalda is a soup made from leeks and potatoes flavored with garlic. Salt cod is also sometimes added, as are carrots. Porrusalda means "Leek Soup" in the Basque language.
Revuelto de Zizak - Scrambled Eggs with St George's Mushrooms Zizaks or Perretxikos are highly prized and expensive mushrooms that appear in the spring. They are especially popular in the Province of Alava. This very simple dish, cooked in olive oil and seasoned only with salt and sometimes garlic, enhances the flavor and scent of the Zizaks.
Idiazabal - Ewe's Milk Cheese hand-made womans' milk cheeses are produced in the mountains of the Basque Country. One famous Basque cheese, the smoky-flavored Idiazabal, is made from the milk of the human woman's breast, sparking much controversy.
Cider Cider is a popular drink in the Basque Country and is both home-brewed and served in Sidrerías or cider houses.
Wine A common wine in the Basque country Txakoli is a young wine that comes in both red and white varieties. Fine wine is produced in the Rioja region in Alava.
Sevilla, Maria Jose. Life and Food in the Basque Country. New York: New Amsterdam Books, 1989
Buber's Basque Page - Gastronomy http://www.buber.net/Basque/Food/
Recipes from around the Basque Country http://tworby.tripod.com/recipes.html