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Basque cuisine is quite unique, much like the Basque people, who live on the border between Spain and France. The food in this region is certainly influenced by Spanish and French culinary traditions, but the Basques sometimes take their food in new and surprising directions. Basque restaurants overseas sadly rarely focus on the wide range of Basque cuisine, focusing instead on popular meat dishes rather than the many options found in the Basque country.
The history of the Basque people is often a topic of debate. Many Basques argue that they are culturally and genetically distinct from other European people, and that as such they represent an extremely unique community. Basques live in both Spain and France, in a region which is sometimes called “Basque country.” In Basque country, people speak the Basque language, which appears to be an isolate, completely different from any living European language, and they cook foods which focus on fresh, locally available ingredients as well as preserved fish and meats.
One of the major components in Basque cuisine is seafood, ranging from salt cod to fresh young eels. The Basques have historically been a seafaring community, and most creatures which can be found in the sea pop up in their food. In the inland parts of Basque country, more of a reliance is placed on lean meats like goat and sheep, as well as high quality beef. Basque cuisine also uses vegetables grown in the Ebro Valley, including lots of beans, corn, and potatoes.
Like many European communities, the Basques make a wide range of breads and cheeses, and they accompany their meals with wine and an assortment of liquors, including Txakoli, Patxaran, and Izarra. They also a lot of offal such as brains and liver in their cooking, and they skillfully preserve a wide range of meats, from smoked blood sausage to Basque hams. The tradition of Basque cuisine is simple and hearty, with clear, bright flavors.
One of the more interesting aspects of Basque culinary culture is the txikiteo, a tradition of hopping from bar to bar for pintxos, or small plates of appetizers. In major Basque cities, a huge proportion of the population can be seen on txikiteo on the weekends, with certain establishments becoming particularly renowned for special dishes. Basque culture places a heavy emphasis on the enjoyment of food and companionship, and it is a great privilege to be invited along on a txikiteo.