In the late 19th century my great-grandparents left their homes in Navarra in search of better lives in the Argentine pampas. In Argentina they married, had several children and died before I, or even my father, was able to meet them. I grew up knowing that I was (a quarter) Basque, but having no other knowledge of the Basques, their food, their traditions or their struggle.
I first became acquainted with Basque food at a San Francisco restaurant my husband took me while we were dating. It was a "family style" place, of the sort common in California, catering mostly to tour groups. It served a fixed menu: salad, a fish course, a choice of two main courses, french fries, dessert and coffee, all for about $13. The food was good, homey and satisfying, and the price could not be beat so we went there several times over the years. We also tried other Basque restaurants in the area and in general found the food pleasant but unremarkable.
Our perception of Basque food changed significantly when we visited the Basque Country and Navarra. We were traveling in a backpacker's budget ($70 a day for both of us, to include accommodations, food, transportation, entertainment and odds and end), which didn't actually leave much room for restaurant meals. Still, once we tasted Spanish Basque food we were instant converts and ready to blow our budget. The food was just incredible.
We returned to America armed with a Basque cookbook and through the years I've tried to make different Basque dishes from it. Some have been very good (for example, the oxtail stew), others just so-so, and nothing quite equaled what we had in the Basque country.
This meal was no exception. The food was generally good but not outstanding. I don't know if the problem is the recipes, the local meats and produce or the execution, but I'm now convinced that if I want to have great Basque food, I'll have to go back to the Basque country.
For my menu I wanted to make things which were relatively new to me and which were balanced. If I had been faithful to Basque culinary tradition I would have served a fish or seafood course. The Basque are great fishermen and they love fish - salted cod (bacalao) is a special delicacy. However, I quickly settled on my choice for an appetizer (the quail in chocolate sauce) and I felt that serving a fish course first would have been too much food. I also thought I needed something heavier than fish to serve as a main dish. I was planning to serve some shrimp pintxos (the Basque version of tapas), but I run out of time. My final menu consisted of:
- Pintxos: bread toasted with olive oil and served with:
- Paté de foie (store bought)
- Jamón serrano
- Brie mixed with chopped walnuts and pine-nuts
- Codornices en Salsa de Chocolate
Quails in Chocolate Sauce. Followed by:
- Ciervo con Salsa de Grosellas
Venison with Red Currant Sauce. Served with:
- Stuffed Mushrooms
and for dessert:
- Basque Cake
Basque Food Links
Bibliography Basque Recipes: Old Country Cuisine in Bizkai The La Fraugh Name History Basque Recipes Recetas del País Vasco - Spanish Gourmet Vasco - Spanish Portal Gastronomía Vasca - Spanish Cocina Vasca - Spanish