A trip around the Basque country wouldn’t be complete without tasting the traditional Basque food. The extreme Southwest of France and the Basque part of Northern Spain offer a lot for food lovers. In the Basque country, people are called “bon vivant”, enjoying life, food, parties, traditional festivals…
So today, I’ll introduce you the best traditional Basque food recipes. First, I’ll tell you what is Basque food, then you will find some starters, main courses, cheese, desserts and local recipes of the Basque cuisine.
You will also find a selection of the best Basque food tour of the area at the end of the article.
Although you will find some recipes online, the ones I give you here are only by locals.
Don’t hesitate to tell me if you’re interested in a special recipe and want me to find it for you and/or translate it in English!
The best Basque food tour.
If you’re only looking for the best Basque food tour and don’t have time to read this article, I recommend you the 3-Day pintxos tour in San Sebastian below.
Not only you will discover the beautiful Basque city of San Sebastian, that has been elected last year as the most beautiful beach in Europe by Trip Advisor readers, but you will also try pintxos, the Basque tapas, that have been elected as the best culinary experience in the World by Lonely Planet!
You need a vacation rental in the area?
Contact me via the contact section, the form at the bottom of the page or directly on my mobile phone at the bottom of the page too.
The concept of my ethno vacation rental is to introduce you to the Basque Country as a local by giving you all the information you need and helping you discover places and traditions, even those that are not well known to the locals!
What is Basque food?
Basque food is the food of the Basque Country region.
Most of the few foreigners who have heard about the Basque Country immediately think about Spain.
But the Basque Country area is much bigger than the Spanish part in Northern Spain. It actually includes 7 provinces, 4 in Spain, 3 in France.
That means that each area has its own traditional Basque food recipes and a lot of towns or villages have their own Basque Country dishes!
Basque cuisine often includes red chili in its recipes as you will see below.
If you look at the map, Labourd, Basse-Navarre and Soule are the 3 French Basque provinces.
Biscaye, Guipuzcoa, Alava and Navarre are the 4 Spanish Basque provinces.
In this article, I’ll try to tell you where you can find the different Basque food specialties when it’s specific to a Basque province or town.
Fish and shellfish.
The Basque Country is open on the Atlantic Ocean. Consequently, fish and shellfish are a big part of the Basque cooking.
The French city of Saint Jean de Luz is the ideal place to try the “ttoro”. Choose a Basque restaurant in the rue de la République, in the centre.
Ttoro is a kind of fish soup made with a lot of fish and shellfish.
If you want to prepare it yourself, you will need hake, langoustines, mussels, garlic, onion… and Espelette pepper. Depending on the recipe, you can use another kind of fish.
Each year, the costal town of Ciboure, close to Saint Jean de Luz, organise the ttoro festival. Get the info in my article here.
Beware: It’s different from “toro”. You will find it in Camargue area and it means “bull”. Marmitako is another Basque soup I’ll tell you about later.
Chipirons : squids.
Saint Jean de Luz is also the place to eat the delicious “chipirons” also called “xipirons”.
They prepare the squids (chipirons) “à la plancha” (grilled). It’s served with rice and onion, tomato, bell pepper sauce… and red chilli again. The recipe is called “chipirons à la Luzienne” (squids in the style of Saint Jean de Luz).
If you want to prepare it by yourself, my favorite place to buy squids is Capbreton fish market, the only place in France where fishermen are allowed to sell directly to the consumers!
In Spain, it’s generally prepared “à l’encre” (calamares en su tinta).
“Marmitako” is another Basque soup. The main ingredients are tuna and potatoes… and red chilli again.
You can find it both in the French and Spanish part of the Basque Country, almost everywhere but especially in the towns and villages along the ocean.
Thon kaskarote – tuna kaskarote.
Thon kaskarote is made from grilled red tuna, fresh tomatoes, bell peppers, leek, onions and… red chilli.
Beware: it’s not a recipe by a local.
“Merlu Koskera” is made from hake with asparaguses, peas, mussels, clams, hard-boiled eggs.
Oiartzun daurade is a grilled full and open sea bream with garlic, red chilli sauce and vinegar.
It’s the specialty of Oiartzun village in Guipuzcoa.
Txangurro is a spider crab stuffed with onions, carrots and leeks.
Other fish specialties of the Basque cuisine.
Marinated anchovy (anchois marinés).
Fresh cod served in the traditional Basque food menu of the cider restaurants especially (morue fraîche). Go to the typical cider-making restaurants in the mountain areas of Guipuzcoa during winter. You will enjoy the traditional cider-making menu. See more information in the meat section. You will also find a suggestion of Get Your Guide cider house tour at the end of the article.
Meat has probably the most important place in the Basque foods.
Basque people like meat a lot, and they produce a lot of animals in the area.
Therefore, we can buy some good products, from the farms or butcher’s shops. I rarely buy it from the supermarket, as the quality is lower and it’s not cheaper!
Zikiro is a “méchoui” party (barbecued whole lamb served with flageolet beans).
In the south of France and Spain, lamb is also often served with piperade (see below with the local specialties).
Tripotx is a lamb blood sausage generally served with “piperade”.
Axoa comes from Espelette but we eat it in the whole French Basque country. This typical village even has its axoa festival in June.
It’s made from veal, sometimes mixed with lamb.
We mince the meat with different ingredients and… red chilli. And guess from which place comes the red chilly? From Espelette!
The juice of axoa is not fat and it’s served with potatoes.
If you visit the Basque Country, you absolutely have to pay a visit to Espelette with its house facades covered with chilli and try axoa there.
Pantxeta is a veal blood sausage.
Txuleta ou chuleta.
Txuleta or chuleta is a rib of beef.
As I told you before, the meat is delicious here and “txuleta” is a must.
It’s very popular in Spain and is part of the cider restaurant’s menus.
Tolosa city, close to San Sebastian, is very famous for txuleta and even has a dedicated festival with a special menu.
Here is the typical cider-making restaurant’s menu: cod omelette, fried cod with red chilly, txuleta, ewe cheese with nuts and quince jam. + unlimited cider that the guests take in the big barrels. It costs from 25 to 35€. The atmosphere is friendly, as people eat on big tables and enjoy looking for the best cider’s barrel. The most authentic places only open during winter.
Poulet basquaise or chicken basquaise.
Poulet basquaise or chicken Basquaise is normally served with piperade. You can find the Basque chicken recipe on Chowhound’s website.
Tripota is a Basque blood sausage from pork stuffed with onions.
Xistorra is another kind of spicy Basque sausage.
Ventrêche or Xingar.
Ventrêche or xingar is made from fat pork’s belly.
Lukinke is a dry sausage slightly spicy.
Chichons are rillettes with Espelette red chilli.
Funny fact: Don’t mix up with the slang word “chichon” that means hashish!
Jambon de Bayonne or Bayonne ham.
Almost everybody think it comes from Bayonne, but it’s not.
Before, it was prepared in Salies de Béarn and exported through Bayonne harbour. This is the reason of its name.
It comes from “Ossau” and “Aspe” valleys.
Its origin is controlled and protected (AOC).
Read about the making process here.
If you like ham, don’t miss Bayonne ham fair, occuring since 1462! Get the information about this fair here.
Basque food specialties.
In addition to the fish and meat, we also have some local specialties.
Piments d’Espelette is red chilli from the beautiful and typical French village of Espelette.
The name is also protected (AOC).
Basque people are fond of red chilli as you could notice in the previous recipes.
We use both fresh red chilli or chilli powder.
We use chilli jam (delicious with the cheese), chilli jelly, salt + chilli…
And even some chocolate with chilli!
It’s available in the little basque shops but you can also find it on Amazon.
Some people also use a chili’s plait to decorate their kitchen.
Pimiento del piquillo.
Pimiento del piquillo comes from Spain.
This is a triangular pepper that came from South-America.
Don’t cook with water as it would lose its taste.
It’s delicious, especially when it’s stuffed with cod. It’s meltingly soft and fits the taste of the cod’s stuffing.
Look for “pimientos rellenos” and “baccalao” (cod).
Piperade is prepared with onions, tomatoes, red chillies, garlic, olive oil.
It’s typically served with chicken basquaise, eggs, omelette, ham.
Taloa is similar to the traditional corn flour tortilla and served with lomo, xingar, xistora, ewe cheese or whatever you want.
It’s cooked on a warm metal plank called talo burni.
Pintxos – basque tapas.
Pintxos is the Basque word for tapas.
The pintxos in San Sebastian have just been elected the 1st of the top world’s 500 best meals.
So of course, the best place to eat pintxos is the Spanish coastal town of San Sebastian.
Go in the old district and enjoy the atmosphere of the basque cafés, going from one to another. Try one or two pintxos with a local txakoli (slightly sparkling white wine) in each place. Finish your evening walking along the ocean. Perfect evening, right?
Maybe you will also witness a pintxos competition. Yes, we have also some pintxos’ champions, both in the French and Spanish part!
At the beginning of May, Bayonne celebrates pintxos with Pintxos Eguna, when you can eat amazing pintxos for a low price. Get the information here.
There are so many kinds of pintxos that I can’t give you only one recipe. In the book below you will find a selection of pintxos recipes.
Due to our mountains and nature, we have a lot of herds in the Pyrenees mountains. As a result, the Basque food is also famous for cheese.
Ewe cheese ardi gasna.
The main Basque cheese is Ardi-gasna: ewe cheese from raw milk, made in the “etxola” or sheepfold.
In France we also call it “fromage de brebis”.
They filter the ewe milk in a sheet then put it in a 30° cooking pot.
There is a long process I won’t detail. But once made, they keep the cheese in a “gasnategia”, a cold room, during 4-5 months, or more.
Some of the most famous ones are Ossau-Iraty, Roncal and Idiazabal (from the name of the valleys). But I find much more interesting to buy some in the Basque mountains during a hike!
The one listed below from Amazon comes from the Soule mountains, the most remote part of the French Basque Country, close to Bearn.
We eat Ardi-gasna with black cherry jam or chili jelly (French side). Spanish people eat it with nuts and quince jam.
Goat cheese in France is called “fromage de chêvre”.
It’s not a soft one like we use to eat in France. It’s more similar to ardi-gasna and often mixed with it.
Cow cheese here is prepared alone or mixed with ewe milk.
In France it’s called “fromage de vache”.
Desserts and sweets.
Finally, these are desserts and sweets. But I’m not sure you will still be able to eat something after such starters and main dishes!
Intxaursaltza is a sweet creamy nut soup from Spain.
Spaniards traditionally eat it on Christmas eve.
Kanouga is toffee with coffee, chocolate or hazelnut chantilly cream inside.
Muxu is macaroon made with almonds. The Basque word “muxu” means kiss.
Gaztanbera or mamia.
Gaztanbera or mamia is a ewe curd we generally eat with honey.
Pettanmamia is an apple, cooked with curd and black cherry jam.
If you have read my article on the chocolate festival in Bayonne, you know it’s a speciality of Bayonne.
There’s an infinite variety of chocolate, but don’t forget to try the one with red chilly. Audacious but delicious!
Basque cake, gâteau basque in French, is the most famous dessert of the Basque country.
You will find everywhere “le Roi du gâteau basque” (the King of the Basque cake) or “le meilleur gâteau basque” (the best Basque cake).
We prepare the traditional one with black cherry jam, but cream is another possibility.
You will find a traditional Basque cake recipe on Euskoguide’s website.
Recommended food tours.
You will find a lot of tours to try the traditional Basque food on Get Your Guide website.
My holiday rental and guiding services.
You will find my contact number on the “contact” page to book the independent flat for 5 persons in my house at 16kms from Bayonne and/or my guiding services.
So now, you’re ready to enter a Basque restaurant and order the best Basque food from here!
Did you notice I added some traditional Basque recipes? Just click on the name of the food and you will be able to cook it by yourself.
I especially thank Eusko Guide Blog for their authentic Spanish recipes of the Basque cake and marmitako.
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