Basque in the glow of good eat­ing

Marti Buck­ley of­fers in­sider’s view on one of Eu­rope’s great food cul­tures

National Post (Latest Edition) - - THE FEAST - Ex­cerpted from Basque Coun­try by Marti Buck­ley (Ar­ti­san Books). Copy­right © 2018. Pho­to­graphs by Si­mon Ba­jada. Used with per­mis­sion from the pub­lisher. Laura Bre­haut

For many food lovers, the Basque Coun­try holds a spe­cial sway. From bar­tops brim­ming with pin­txos (small bites) to leg­endary Miche­lin-starred restau­rants, the re­gion is known the world over for its in­no­va­tive, in­gre­di­ent-driven cui­sine.

But for a true glimpse into the Basque “cult of good eat­ing,” it’s time to look past the ex­quis­ite tast­ing menus and bustling bars, author and cook Marti Buck­ley says. Un­like the stan­dard home cook­ing restau­rant di­vide that ex­ists in food cul­tures around the world, cooks in this small area span­ning the France-Spain bor­der ex­er­cise their culi­nary cre­ativ­ity in dis­tinct ways.

A cat­e­gory of “other restau­rants,” chief among them the din­ing so­ci­ety (tx­oko), “are even more foun­da­tional than restau­rants,” Buck­ley writes. Th­ese cen­trally lo­cated pri­vate clubs are out­fit­ted with pro­fes­sional kitchens and long, com­mu­nal ta­bles where mem­bers can cook meals for their friends. Tra­di­tion­ally re­stricted to men, more and more tx­okos have started ad­mit­ting fe­male mem­bers.

“You have all of th­ese other places where food is at the fore­front, like din­ing so­ci­eties and cook­ing com­pe­ti­tions that hap­pen at fes­ti­vals,” she says. “It helps ce­ment tra­di­tional recipes but also this love and con­stant con­ver­sa­tion about food that keeps it alive.”

The Alabama na­tive has been liv­ing in Donos­tia (San Se­bastián in Span­ish) for close to a decade. When it came to writ­ing her de­but cook­book, Basque Coun­try (Ar­ti­san, 2018), Buck­ley says it was im­por­tant for her to of­fer a faith­ful rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the most tra­di­tional recipes from across the greater re­gion’s seven provinces.

“It’s a real hon­our to write about a topic that is so authen­tic and so his­tor­i­cal and so in­ter­est­ing,” she says. “The longer I live there, the more I re­ally get ex­cited about the tra­di­tions. When you first move there you’re wowed by the pin­txos and the Miche­lin stars but what I re­ally love now is go­ing to a vil­lage that I’ve never vis­ited be­fore. And if it’s on the coast, see­ing the fish­ing boats come in and then see­ing those fish go­ing up the street to the restau­rant or bar that I’m go­ing to have lunch at.”

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