Top 20 Most Popular Foods in the Basque Country
The Basque Country is a beautiful land of tasty dishes and flavors linked to a gastronomic culture with strong roots. The history of this region of northern Spain has left us dishes as delicious as they are varied, strongly influenced by its fishing and stockbreeding tradition. So great is the food here that the city of San Sebastian has one of the most Michelin-starred restaurants per square meter.
Basque cuisine is one of the most iconic and unique in Spain and the world. If you are planning a trip to Bilbao, San Sebastian, Vitoria, or any other place in the mountainous north—or just want to know their gastronomy—here are the 20 most popular foods in the Basque Country.
We wanted to start with pintxos as any tourist will find them as soon as they arrive in the Basque Country. The truth is that pintxos are not a single recipe; they are thousands! Not to be confused with the tapas of the rest of Spain, although there are similarities.
Pintxos are small snacks that can contain almost everything and are one of the hallmarks of Basque cuisine. Those of tortilla, ham, anchovies, croquettes, or meat are some of the most famous, and you will see them accompanied by bread and olive oil. Do not end your journey without having tried some.
2. Bacalao al Pil-pil: Pil-pil Cod
If Basques like one thing, it’s cod—especially in Vizcaya, where you can find the popular bacalao a la vizcaína. Present in many restaurants near to and far from the coast, bacalao al pil-pil (pil-pil cod) is the jewel in the crown.
The cod is fried with garlic, olive oil, and roasted red peppers until the oils form a sauce. As a curious fact, pil-pil refers to the sound of the fish skin when it fries in the pan.
The name of this dish derives from the Basque word marmita, which means pot or casserole. It is one of the most representative dishes of the Basque Country, originating from its long fishing tradition.
It is a tuna stew made in a pot with other ingredients such as potatoes, tomatoes, and onions. Depending on the type of fish used, you can find many variations in Basque restaurants.
Some of you have been waiting for this moment, haven’t you? Goxua is a traditional dessert, especially popular in the province of Alava, that will satisfy the palates of all those passionate about sweets. It can be found in many pastry shops in both towns and cities of the Basque Country.
We suggest you try it as a dessert in a restaurant after a good filling meal. The translation of goxua is sweet or tasty, and the dessert is made with sponge cake, whipped cream, pastry cream, and sugar. Sorry if you are reading this before lunch!
5. Merluza en Salsa Verde or Merluza a la Vasca
Literally translated as hake in green sauce or Basque hake, this dish is one of the most popular in the Basque Country, and even in the rest of the world.
Merluza en salsa verde takes its name from the color of the parsley in the sauce, a delicious broth to dip bread in. The dish is made with clams or shrimps, white or green asparagus, peas, and sometimes potatoes.
Chistorra is a filling fast-cured sausage made from pork, though it sometimes includes minced beef. It is very versatile as it can be fried, grilled, or baked, and is often eaten accompanied by other dishes or just as a snack to kill your hunger.
If you find yourself starving as you walk the streets of the Basque Country, don’t hesitate to look for a chistorra; you’ll definitely find one around somewhere.
Porrusalda is a comforting stew of leeks, potatoes, and fish. In truth, it is a traditional and very simple dish, but so delicious.
You can choose from many variations, changing the proportion of potatoes or leek, and also try the vegetarian version without the fish. In either case, it’s healthy and low-fat (perfect for appeasing yourself after eating a chistorra sausage!).
Angulas are baby eels, a traditional Spanish seafood often eaten with garlic and oil—yes, the good Spanish extra virgin olive oil!
Although it can be expensive meaning people usually only buy it for Christmas or other special occasions, other cheaper alternatives are available. All in all, one of the most popular angulas in the Basque Country are angulas a la bilbaína, made with frying hot peppers and garlic in olive oil.
9. Basque Cheesecake
Oh, gosh! The Basque cheesecake is a wonderful and creamy dessert which La Viña Bar in San Sebastián has perfected over decades.
Its ingredients are cream cheese, heavy cream, eggs, and sugar, but the Basque version does not have a crust. Instead, the center remains soft while the outside is slightly burnt. Although La Viña is its place of origin, you can find many variations in the Basque Country and Spain.
10. Bacalao Ajoarriero: Ajoarriero Cod
Here comes another recipe with bacalao. The origins of bacalao ajoarriero, or ajoarriero cod, are the Basque Country and Navarre. It consists of shredded salt cod accompanied by chopped ingredients, such as tomatoes, onions, garlic, potatoes, and red and green peppers. In some places, crab and beaten eggs are added to the dish.
You can also find it in many other regions of Spain, such as Aragón or Cuenca. Bacalao, bacalao everywhere.
Torrijas are a delicious Basque dessert made from a brioche-type bread soaked in milk and egg before being fried. They are flavored with cinnamon and orange and smothered in a sweet syrup.
The milk can be flavored with natural vanilla, which is halved and the grains scraped out, or even with a pinch of cloves or a few saffron pistils.
12. Txangurro a la Donostiarra
Apart from being a word difficult for non-natives to pronounce, txangurro is the meat of the spider crab, a crustacean of the crab family. In this elaboration, a fried sauce is prepared with onion and leek. The spider crab is then added without breaking the shell. Lastly, tomato sauce and cognac are added, then bread crumbs and butter to gratinate in the oven.
Gilda is one of the most popular pintxos in the Basque Country. It has pitted olives, anchovies, and green peppers bathed with extra virgin olive oil.
In case you wondered where the name came from, pintxos are (with the Basque language spelling rather than the Sanish pincho but pronounced the same) means spike or stick. Look at any pintxo picture, and you’ll find that the ingredients are commonly threaded on a stick.
The quality of the ingredients is what really makes them special!
14. Kokotxas en Salsa Verde
The kokotxas are one of the juiciest parts of the fish, and the most popular are those of cod and hake.
They are the glandular part of the fish’s lower jaw, the chin. For kokotxas in salsa verde (green sauce), you use salt, water, parsley, garlic cloves, chopped chili pepper, a glass of white wine, some broth, and flour. Another delicacy you can’t miss!
15. Pastel Vasco: Basque Cake
With a French Basque Country historical background, the Basque cake can be found at many popular festivals in the region and in most pastry shops.
It consists of a shortcrust pastry made with flour, butter, and eggs, and then filled with the traditional pastry cream. You could also find some variations that include fruit or jam, as in the original recipe.
16. Calamares en su Tinta: Squid in Ink
Again from the sea, squid in its ink (or calamares en su tinta) is a traditional seafood dish. Basques prepare it in multiple ways. Apart from the squid ink, they can include ripe tomatoes, onion, garlic, chili, and cayenne pepper.
It’s pretty easy to prepare, healthy, and full of flavor. If you find a restaurant that has them as a specialty, you have no excuse to not try them!
The bell pepper is a tasty vegetable from many Basque and Navarre gardens that accompanies meat and fish.
The piperrada is a typical dish with onion, red Espelette pepper, green peppers, and tomatoes. It can be cooked with tuna as a garnish for other tasty Basque fish or meat dishes. But piperrada on its own is already a delight. Mouth-watering, indeed.
18. Beans with Chorizo
One of the best things about Basque gastronomy is its simplicity. In the case of beans with chorizo, it can also be said that simplicity doesn’t mean insipid.
It’s very common to taste great legume dishes with a strong traditional character in northern Spain. In the case of beans with chorizo sausage, one of the most popular come from Tolosa. You may even want to plan a visit to try it firsthand!
Mamia is similar to yogurt, and it’s the Basque version of cuajada, a thick type of sheep’s curd. You can order it from many places, including as a dessert in many restaurants and markets.
The best way to serve it is in a small ceramic pot. Mamia can also be served with honey, cinnamon, and mint leaves. Beautiful and delicious.
The talo is a popular street food in the Basque Country, usually filled with chistorra sausage. If you happen to be in Bilbao, San Sebastián, or another city that celebrates Santo Tomás on the 21st of December, don’t forget to get your chistorra talo at the street food stands.
Eat it with a delicious cider to get the best out of your gastronomic and cultural experience!