Do the names Arzak, Subijana, and Arguiñano ring any bells? Maybe not to you, but if you’re a serious aficionado of haute cuisine, you’ll immediately recognise them and what they have in common: many Michelin stars and their home turf, Spain’s Basque County.
This green northern region is known for its landscapes, historic cities, and distinctive local culture, but also its fine cuisine – considered by many to be home to some of the best eating in Iberia.
Since the Basque Country lies on the Bay of Biscay and has an ancient fishing and maritime tradition, naturally seafood plays a starring role on local menus – most notably codfish in myriad forms (such as in garlicky pil pil sauce), eel, and other dishes such as marmitako (tuna -and- potato soup).
Bilbao is a great place to start your culinary adventures up here, especially when it comes to pintxos (which is what tapas are called up here); a favourite local pastime is pintxo-bar hopping in this city’s old quarter.
Gracious San Sebastián to its east is, for its part, one of the world’s great culinary capitals, with various world-class restaurants in or very near the city that hold 17 Michelin stars between them, presenting stunning nouvelle dishes accompanied by the finest Spanish and international wines.
Beyond these two cities, there are countless small fishing villages along the coast where you can stop to savour traditional Basque cuisine, such as Zumaia, Getaria and Zarautz, among many others (and this fare is also far easier on the wallet than the Michelin-star gang).
So heads up, foodies: you haven’t truly experienced the very best the world has to offer if you haven’t visited the Basque Country. Come hungry!
Photo: Kent Wang