1. Food first
Don’t mess with food, especially in a country where much of the social life revolves around eating. It’s a standard topic of conversation and most plans involve food. For Basques, food is a religion, a blind faith, a celebration, a matter of utmost importance. First things first: what to eat and where to eat it. They’ll be time to sort out the rest of the world once we’re sitting around the table.
2. A shared treasure
Vitoria-Gasteiz is in the top ranking of European cities with the most green space; Bilbao flaunts its Guggenheim Museum and amazing urban revitalisation; Donostia is the city of festivals and a destination that has drawn visitors from 19th-century royalty to surfers the world over. But what all three cities have in common, what unites the our three Basque capitals and the region as a whole, is food.
3. The commandments
The philosophy of Basque cuisine is based on a series of strict commandments: locally-sourced and/or zero-kilometre ingredients, seasonal produce, a personal touch, and a natural blend of tradition and avant-garde. Tradition is as important as sophistication and innovation, and they are not at odds with each other. Two examples of mind-bending creativity intertwined with long-standing tradition: Juan Mari Arzak’s popular redfish terrine and Pedro Subijana’s green pepper sea bass served at his restaurant Akelarre.
4. Curious cooking clubs
Equipped with commercial kitchens and dining rooms, cuadrillas (groups of friends) meet regularly in these locales for lunch or dinner. They’re not restaurants open to the public and there are no waiters or cooking staff. The tasks are generally shared among the members – some do the shopping, others do the cooking. And once everyone has finished their meal, the total cost is tallied up and split equally. Visitors and tourists might not even notice them but there are hundreds of cooking clubs, or txokos, in the Basque Country.