It was the end of September when my husband and I took our belated honeymoon and headed down to the Basque country. After one night in Paris and one night in Biarritz, we arrived on a drizzly afternoon to San Sebastian, the city most famous for surfing and pintxos.
I have been told that it was a foodie’s paradise but nothing had prepared me for what followed. We were, naturally hungry, and partly to hide from the rain, partly in search for victuals, we entered one of the many bars the line the streets of the Old Town. The bar was covered in plates, containing baguette-slice-sized finger foods. Topped with anything from cheese and chutney to sardines and chorizo. My mouth was watering before I finished placing 6-7 such pintxos on my plate, completely unaware of the local way of tasting one pintxo and one glass of wine in each bar, instead of getting full in one place.
But a couple of days later, we were well and fully on the pintxo trail, sampling one pintxo per bar, until we hit Martinez Bar on 31 de Agosto and got a taste of their marinated anchovy with jardiniere garnish. I refused to eat anything else for the rest of the day. We then found out that it was in fact bar Txepetxa on Pescaderia 5 that had turned the marinated anchovy into a work of art. Naturally, I had my fix of anchovies there too. However, I returned with gusto to Martinez and tried some of his other dishes and felt extremely pleased every time.
Amongst other bars that had pleased my taste buds both with food and wine, were Gandarias 31 de Agosto, 23, whose signature dish was scallop and king prawn brochette with honey and orange vinaigrette, La Cueva, Plaza de la Trinidad, a hidden sanctuary of deliciousness, as well as Txalupa Fermin Calberton that had impressed me with their moist meatballs in tomato sauce like no other.
But the biggest revelation of San Sebastian’s food revelation has been Bar Nestor, on Pescaderia 11. Bar Nestor is most famous for tortilla and txuletons (beef steak). His tortilla is only made twice a day (at 1pm and 8pm) and when it’s gone it’s gone. The first time we were obviously too late. The second time, we arrived one hour earlier and noticed the shutters half-open and a queue of people who, judging by the fact that they consisted of three stylish Japanese girls, were obviously not locals waiting to say hello. We figured people were queuing to put their names down for the tortilla and txuletons. And we were right.
My friend M. confessed his disappointment when he learnt we had only ordered the tomato salad, the pimentos and the tortilla. But we had seen the txuletons the evening before and after a day of marinated anchovies and other creatures of the sea in any shape, form or method of cooking, I knew I couldn’t handle the txuleton. I would have had to fast the whole day and I would have still struggled. But I promised to try it when I’d return. Because there was no way in hell I wouldn’t be back at Nestor’s to gorge on that gorgeous tomato salad again.
‘Que typo de vino quieren?’ (What kind of wine do you want?) had asked the tall bearded bartender while we waited for tortilla and tomato salad.
‘Normal’, I had answered knowing that vino normal was the wine of the year, the cheapest kind.
‘No hay nada normal aqui,’ (There is nothing normal here) he had answered and I agreed.
Who wants normal the you can have San Sebastian?