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...
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.
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!
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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.
I. 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 town of Saint Jean de Luz is the perfect place to try "ttoro". Choose a Basque restaurant in 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 by yourself, you will need hake, langoustines, mussels, garlic, onion... and red chili to prepare it. Depending on the recipe, you can use another kind of fish.
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.
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.
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 or 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.
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.
III. 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!
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.
IV. Basque cheese
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".
V. Desserts and sweets
Finally, these are the 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 so I wanted to help you find the most interesting ones depending on your needs.
I didn't test it by myself but I used my local knowledge to chose the ones that seem the most promising.
Bilbao food tours
The first tour of 3 days is interesting because it will allow you to try pintxos, visit the famous Guggenheim museum and the accommodation in a 4-star hotel is included.
There's no guiding service but a complete roadbook.
I chose the second tour as it will allow you to visit Bilbao city centre, taste the local cheese and learn how to pair it with local wine or artisanal beer.
The third tour can seem expensive for a one-day tour but it includes the visit to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, the magnificent shooting place of Game of Thrones 7. It's the dragon castle! You will also visit a winery where you will taste the surprising and delicious local sparkling white wine, Txakoli. A traditional lunch is also included.
I chose the 4th tour because it's both a cooking class to learn how to cook pintxos and a dinner. It starts with a visit to the centre and an aperitive.
The last tour is both a walking tour and a visit to the traditional market with a degustation of 5 tapas with 5 drinks. The atmosphere of such a traditional market in Spain is always a highlight.
San Sebastian food tours
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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