Good Food Blog
San Sebastian foodPosted at 1:08PM, 18 March 2008 by Mary Cadogan - Food writer
They say it's almost impossible to eat badly in San Sebastian. This is the city with more Michelin stars per head of the population than anywhere else in Europe and a reputation for being obsessed with food. So last weekend we took the train to check it out.
We quickly dumped our bags at the seafront hotel and walked along the promenade into the old town which consists of a warren of narrow streets heaving with people spilling out of countless bars. Everywhere you looked people were eating, drinking, chatting, arguing and gesticulating. It was all a bit daunting to be honest, but we dived into Bar Sport and ordered a glass of wine to calm our nerves. What came was not just any old glass of wine, but a fresh young zingy Txakoli, a local wine which the barman expertly poured from a height into fine glass tumblers, to aerate it, I presume. And very delicious it was, too.
Check out the blackboard and there is a whole range of minature morsels that are cooked to order, and this is where it gets really exciting.
The bar was groaning under the weight of plates of tapas - or pintxos, to give them their Basque name. The choice was a bit overwhelming but we soon got the hang of it. Some of the dishes such as crab tarts and skewers of pickled chillies, anchovies and olives are for eating cold. Just ask for a plate, pile on whatever takes you fancy, and the barman efficiently keeps a tab.
Other dishes such as croquettes of meat, fish and vegetables, stuffed crepes and tortillas can be quickly reheated for you. Check out the blackboard and there is a whole range of minature morsels that are cooked to order, and this is where it gets really exciting.
Over the course of three days we hopped from bar to bar and in each one we had fantastic food, served quickly and with great pride. One favourite was Gandarias where we feasted on toast smeared with apple puree and topped with a slice of pan-fried foie gras and port jelly and hot prawn brochettes with sofrito of onion and red pepper.
To go with the food there is an impressive range of wines by the glass. At La Cepa Bernardo Etxea we had a sensational plate of freshly fried anchovies scattered with crispy garlic and a side order of padron peppers. These are small green peppers deep fried and scattered with sea salt. About one in 10 are hot and spicy, a sort of food version of Russian roulette.
All this grazing is amazingly good value, but if you start to yearn for a more leisurely pace of eating then many of the bars have restaurant tables but you will pay more. Beti Jai is great for fresh fish simply cooked, or stroll down to one of the harbourside fish restaurants and watch the boats come in while you eat.
We went home laden with olives, tins of piquillo peppers, Lomo Iberico (cured pork) and of course the wonderful Jamon bought from the newly opened Zapore Jai deli in the old town. So we never did get to eat in any Michelin-starred restaurants, but I don't think we missed out one bit.