Eating San Sebastian: Three meals, hard cider and a whole lot of Tapas

If the thought of traveling makes your mouth water, get to San Sebastian, Spain, where they live to eat. GoNOMAD’s own Paul Shoul visits a friend for a family dinner and takes part in a feast of enormous proportions, and enormous portions, of delicious grilled meats and an assortment of tapas. Beware, you might get hungry just reading this!

Sunlight over San Sebastian. Photo by Paul Shoul.

It is a blustery afternoon in April driving through the hills above San Sebastian. Dappled sunlight peeks through the clouds projecting on to a rolling landscape of scattered homes, perched on hillsides to face the view of the mountain valleys and patches of bright green meadows kept manicured by small herds of sheep.

I have been invited by my Basque friend Jakoba to his family’s annual dinner at his home. He keeps pigs and oxen and horses. He has an organic vegetable garden, apple trees, and the first part of our day will be spent working in his small vineyard. Gradually the family arrives with offerings for the meal and the legendary Basque culinary skills come into action.

The first order of business for every new arrival is the offering of the first of what will become many glasses of natural hard cider. April is cider season in San Sebastian and Jakoba, who has a weekly call in radio show on agriculture and all things Basque, is a man on a mission to promote and revive cider’s history. He is well stocked.

The Men and the Grill

The men start to grill. They have brought chorizo, the smoky paprika infused sausage, and thin cuts of bone in pork, beef loin, and thick blood sausages. Other cooks crowd around the stove preparing fried croquet’s of salt cod, roast peppers sautéed with onions, and scrambled eggs with cod.

The rest of the family helps with making a platter one of my favorite tapas, the Gilda (lollipop). It is simply a green olive, an anchovy and a Guindilla (A vinegar soaked green Chile pepper) on a toothpick.

There is a massive platter of them placed along side plates of home cured tuna in olive oil and a mound of thinly sliced Iberico ham and bread. This meal will not end until the last person stops eating and Jakoba’s mother has just dug into another large plate of the intense blood sausage. It goes on for five hours.

A Valencian friend used himself in comparison to explain the Basque culture to me. Valencia he said is a crossroads, the city thrived on the people passing through. “It is easy for us to love a stranger but we might not remember you in the morning.” The Basques on the other hand have survived by being a closely-knit group. “It is harder to get in, but when you do they will love you forever.”

Eating San Sebastian: Three meals, hard cider and a whole lot of Tapas