San Sebastian, the city of food

San Sebastián, the city of Michelin stars…or at least the European version. Donostia is the name the locals call this picturesque coastal town in the Basque region. It is a sharp paradox of sandy beaches, cobbled alleyways and verdant green hills in its interior. The landscape and produce in this region is so diverse that it’s easy to see where the chefs get their inspiration from.

Parte Vieja alleyways with lots of local merchants

 

The people of the Basque region are incredibly passionate about their food. This is evident throughout the region in its many fantastic bars, restaurants and boutique providore shops. The small suppliers in the Parte Vieja (old town) sell specialty products like jamon, canned seafood, breads, beer, and wine. You could spend more than a week getting lost visiting all the nooks and crannies of this seaside gastronomic town.

The view of cobbled alleyways from our Airbnb apartment in old town.

If you’re interested in a foodie holiday in San Sebastián, the best place to stay is in Old Town, the Parte Vieja. This is the heart of the iconic pintxos bars and providores that are dotted all throughout the area. The atmosphere of these cobblestoned alleyways is absolutely incredible! Live music, the smell of great food and hungry tourists roaming its streets day or night. Being this close to the center of it all means you can nip out for a sneaky snack at any time!

 

THINGS TO DO

Outside of its renown as a foodie haven, San Sebastián also has a thriving surf culture. The Playa de Zurriola is one of the most famous surf beaches in the region. Many surf schools can be found with booths on the beach and nearby streets and offer single or multi-day surf lessons. The beach is also a fantastic place for people watching.

Surf School at La Playa de Zurriola

 

San Sebastian harbour

In the Parte Vieja, there is a beautiful cathedral at the end of a bustling, dark alleyway. As the alleyway opens up the white steps of the Basilica de Santa Maria are laid out in front of you. The ceiling at the entrance way of the church is incredibly intricate and beautiful. It’s possible to visit the inside of the cathedral, although a strict silence is required upon entry.

Basilica de Santa Maria

 

FOOD CULTURE

The bars in San Sebastian are famous for serving pinxtos. These are essentially tapas or single serve pieces. They can be cold items, served warm or made fresh to order. The beauty of eating Pinxtos is you get to try a little bit of everything and then you can move onto another bar. Most pinxtos bars are standing room only places where you order your drink and tapas at the bar before moving to the side to allow the next person to order. This can be a crowded eating experience especially at some of the more popular places. There are some bars that have table service although the menu can be slightly different to the bar menu.

 

Atari

This was the very first pinxtos bar we tried. This was one of the places where you could eat at the bar or sit at a table and order from the tapas menu. We had a beautifully smokey fois gras on toast. It was an incredibly decadent bite to start off our Pinxtos journey.

Foie gras, Atari

 

Casa Urola

We ended up here after bar hopping as they have a dining room upstairs. Unfortunately, it was booked out so we ate in the bar area downstairs. We were lucky enough to be able to order from their sit down menu as well as their bar menu.

Casa Urola, during the daytime.

 

We had some lovely scallops in a cream sauce and chicken skewer Pinxtos to begin with. We also ordered  fish burger Bocadillos, a plate of cured and grilled peppers (this was amazing, sweet and tangy) and a squid salad.

Fish burger bocadilio, Casa Urola

Squid salad and cured peppers, Casa Urola

 

Beti Jai

We were starving and decided to walk into the nearest half decent looking bar. The positives were that there was sit down service so we could order and sit at a table. The food was good, although nothing awe- inspiring like some of he other places. The Morcilla was really tasty that we had at this bar.

Morcilla with cured peppers and onions, Beti Jai

 

Bar Sport

We started off at this place which was reputed to have good reviews. We had the crab crepes and Spanish tortilla here before moving to another bar. This place had a very relaxed atmosphere with decent food options.

Crab crepe, Bar Sport

Potato Tortilla, Bar Sport.

 

Bar Borda Berri

Probably the best bar we went to during our time in San Sebastián. This is highly rated in all the guidebooks and on foursquare. For this reason it gets packed very quickly!

Entrance to the incredibly busy Bar Bordaberri

Idziabel cheese risotto, Bar Borda Berri

Pulpo (octopus), Bar Borda Berri

Veal cheeks, Bar Borda Berri

 

Sakona Coffee Roasters

As a true Melbournian, coffee is not only a necessity it’s an artform. We were so happy to find this fantastic coffee roaster, set a block away from the beach. It was reminiscent of the new wave of Melbourne cafes. They make espresso, aeropress and cold brew coffees. They also serve some light meals and have pastry snacks on hand. Perfect breakfast spot before the beach!

 

 

Places that were also recommended to us that we didn’t get a chance to check out were:

  • Gambara
  • Gandarias
  • Haizea
  • Goiz-Arei
  • Zeruko
  • La Cepa
  • La Vina

 

A couple of things we quickly learnt during our time in San Sebastián:

  1. Learn some key Spanish words for different foods like: chicken, mushroom, shellfish. It will make your ordering experience less of a surprise and a whole lot more enjoyable
  2. San Sebastián is famous for their Txakoli, a lightly sparkling dry white wine. This is the drink of choice in the Basque region. Its definitely worth trying this whilst you are in the region.
  3. When dining in San Sebastián it pays to do your homework. Find out which Pinxtos bars have the best reviews. This can also help you in selecting your dishes at the bars as many specialise in specific items
  4. Arrive early. Pinxtos bars generally kick off at 9pm, but if you get there at 8pm, you can generally find a seat or a space at the bar. The bonus is you’ll get to order the popular dishes before they sell out as well!
  5. The bars all line up their food on the counter, but all the good stuff is made in the kitchen. Repeat: All the good stuff is made out back! You can find out what items are available to order from the blackboards above the bar.

 

The menu, on blackboards at Atari.

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