San Tomas Fiesta…in San Sebastián

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Scenes of San Sebastián on a December Winter’s Day…Still Folks Swimming @ La Concha Beach!

We had attended the San Tomas fest last year, but in our local abode Hondarribia, where it all seemed extremely tame & crowd free. But many of our Basque mates said we absolutely had to go to San Sebastián to witness how the pros do San Tomas. We were also urged to get an early start as it was the place were most of the world wants to be for San Tomas, and we would find ourselves cheek by jowl with the local Basque hordes.

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Top: Inventive Day of the Pig Chistorra Signage; Funky Hair Do Chook in the Farm Section; Big Bread.

The cheap & cheerful background story on San Tomas fest is that it was the day the country folks ambled into town to pay their taxes, and generally they made a day of it by bringing in their families, a few prized animals from the farm to show off and to get all gussied up in their traditional Basque finest attire for a wee social conclave.

The honoured & traditional taste treat at the San Tomas fest is the txistorra (or chistorra in Español) – a wonderfully delicious local sausage that is especially flavoursome if cooked in a bit of Basque cider. The main method of presentation at the fest as seen in a dozen or more stalls is to serve it in a hand pounded corn tortilla that is then lightly grilled.

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The Day of the Pig – Chistorra! Chistorra!

We caught the 8:15am E21 express bus & stepped off in San Sebastián at 8:45am only to find most folks still setting up their stalls and no chistorra even being cooked yet :-(….so we toddled off to our new fave coffee joint Sakona for as close to a Melbourne or Christchurch class coffee to be had in Spain.

There were stalls EVERYWHERE – with a good mix of food & drink, deli specialties, charcuterie, cheeses, chocolates, breads, pastries, and a extensive range of artisan Basque products that ranged from jewellery to clothes to toys to shoes. And speaking of shoes, both human Hounds quite surprised themselves respectively in that we each bought a pair of shoes from shoemaker Zapatari – not in the mainly-eat-chistorra-and-drink-cider-plan, go figure.

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Top Left: Pigs in a Blanket; Recyclable Festival Cider Cup!; How Basque Cider is Poured; Corn Tortillas in the Making.

So now it was chistorra time & we followed Hound #2’s Dad’s Golden Rule per choosing a place to eat – look where there are lots of people (preferably local) and/or a healthy queue and you have found the right spot. And we did & we queued & we nailed the perfecto chistorra stand. Crispy tortilla with a melt in your mouth, perfectly cooked, tender as chistorra tucked away inside. Our only fatal mistake was to order just one to share – but in our defence it was only 11am & a bit south of the traditional 12pm starting line to begin: (a) serious meat consumption and (b) imbibing something of an alcoholic nature.

We were VERY impressed with the council or fest sponsors for providing (for a euro per glass but refundable) a re-usable plastic glass for your cider pour. One of the things that is so upsetting about events like this is the massive waste…cups, napkins, plates, cutlery, etc…that just ends up in landfill somewhere. So a HUGE HATS OFF to the folks who thought this scheme up….we kept our glasses as souvenirs and to use on our camping or picnicking trips.

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Basque Father Christmas Olentzero Atop the Brexta Market; Wee Fellows Gobbling Chistorra in Traditional Clothes & Caps; Da Crowds.

By 1pm it seemed like the entire population of the Basque Country if not Spain had descended on the San Tomas Fest…so it was doing our heads in a wee bit & we needed some quiet space & a bit of a sit down, so off we went to the Tabakalera, a stunningly re-developed old tabacco warehouse that is just starting to spread its wings. It is a wonderful space for art, music, food & wine, films, quiet reflection…with an amazing view of San Sebastian from its rooftop deck space.

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Two of Alberto Schoomer’s Photos of Andy Warhol & Spanish Sculptor Chillida…and some Basque Punk.

So our second San Tomas Fest ticked off & under our belts (or over from the chistorra consumption) and we each have a new pair of Basque handmade shoes as a souvenir…excelente!

The Bacalao Pil-Pil Cookoff…

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The Beginning Prep: Top Left – Bacalao/Cod & Olive Oil; Sauce Happening; Swirl & Swirl; Key Ingredient – Garlic.

Bacalao (or cod) is a mainstay ingredient for many dishes here in the Basque Country, but probably the most famous bacalao dish of all is bacalao pil-pil. Recently we were privileged to watch a Basque Cook Off of this very famous Basque dish right here in Hondarribia. About a dozen contestants had been rounded up or entered to try & make the bacalao pil-pil supreme to tickle the judges taste buds & snare a trophy.

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Basque Billie; The Trophies (looks like everyone wins!)’ Da Fish

It is pretty simple as far as ingredients go – garlic, olive oil and bacalao (cod). The challenge is in making the sauce which happens by an emulsion process, very similar to making mayonnaise. So if you have ever attempted mayonnaise by whisking in the oil by hand & ended up with a disaster, you can appreciate the skills at work here.

The cooks place the oil & garlic in the ceramic pan & then the bacalao, which starts the gentle swirling motion – first to the right, then to the left, back to the right, etc…until it all, hopefully, gels into the classic pil pil sauce.

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Top: Chefs Prep & Swirl; Judges Tasting: The Finished Product

The only mildly disappointing thing about the cook off is that we, the audience, never got to sample the goods. All we were offered is what you can see below in the photo – a fried cod pintxo or a chistorra sausage! They both tasted great but where’s my bacalao pil-pil?

Have to venture out to one of the local tavernas then….

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The Sad Offerings for the Audience 😦

Mutriku’s Mackerel (Verdel) Fest!

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Fishing Port & Town of Mutriku…on a Perfect Spring Day.

When we first arrived in Hondarribia in June 2015, we dutifully scanned a mass of tourist brochures & magazines to identify anything that might be of interest to the Food Hounds. One that stood out was a mackerel festival in the port town of Mutriku in April – so it was duly recorded on our adventure calendar.

As we approached April, we did a bit more research as the tourist brochure stopped at telling us the festival was: (a) in Mutriku, and (b) it was in April. A bit of Googling did indeed confirm the date to be Saturday April 2nd, but other than that (all the info’s in Basque) we knew no more than we did before (time, events, etc…).

Wanting to make the most of the day, we 3 Hounds headed off in the trusty Land Rover (Gertie) shortly after 8AM for Mutriku – a beautiful coastal drive that winds its way through the seaside towns  of Orio, Zarautz, Getaria & Deba. We started to get a bit worried as we entered Mutriku as we fully expected a bit of a traffic bun fight (we’d just driven through one in Deba due to a bike race) and a parking from Hell experience…but nada. Easy peasy. What’s up? Did we get this TOTALLY wrong?

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Mackerel Fest Evidence & A Few Of The Locals…

We had a good wander round the port and could see evidence that something was going to happen – but when? No posters were up anywhere, no crowds, no nothing. We decided to stay calm & have a couple of coffees in a picturesque town square which just happened to be by the tourist information office.

A quick consultation with a very helpful & friendly person @ the oficina de tourismo confirmed it was all happening – beginning at roughly noon (after all, it is Spain) the bars & tabernas would start offering FREE mackerel pintxos! There would also be music at one of the squares and some wee accordion marching bands. And it would all culminate with a mackerel BBQ at the port. When we headed back outside to the square, the scene had quickly changed to folks streaming in from every direction with the square filling up & the tabernas ready to go…

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Mackerel Pintxos – Free!!! From Top Right: Mackerel Slivers in Oil with a sprinkling of Vincotto; Mackerel, Mayo & Balsamic; Smoked Mackerel & More Mayo & Mackerel

Now Hound #2 is an almost rabid mackerel aficionado – if fresh mackerel is on ANY menu we come across, the mackerel is a done deal order. For me, not so much – I tend to find mackerel a wee bit too much of a fishy fish but hey, I am here at a mackerel fest, in a port town widely known for its very fresh fish – so taste I must. Wow – what a pleasant surprise…Hound #2 was a bit stunned that I actually ate far more mackerel than she did (she scolded me a couple of times for taking more than my ‘fair share’). I think the real key is the level of freshness, which makes all the difference – and fresh this mos def was.

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Fest Is Kicking Off In The Square….

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We All Join In….Even Billie!

Thanks Mutriku – we had a blast. We rated it a 9 out of 10 day out & we highly recommend the Mackerel Fest if you be in Spain, in April or there abouts.

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Insert Mackerel Pintxo Into Mouth, Sip Cerveza, Repeat…Billie Wonders When It’s His Turn.

And not to leave any options unexplored on such a gorgeous day, we made pit stop in Deba so Hound #2 could have a boogie board session, and then on to the Basque Geoparque Flysch Coast walk. Estupendo! Never knew rocks could look so cool…

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Basque Flysch Coast

Santo Tomas Fiesta…Or Day of the Pig

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Santo Tomas – All Basque To Us….But Day of the Pig.

As I have written before, it is quite amusing living in the Basque country of Spain as many if not most things are in Basque. So it takes a wee bit of detective work to sort out if there is something going on that we might just be interested in…take for example this poster that appeared on our newsagent’s door. Our newsagent is a funny man & when asked what was going on, he shrugged his shoulders & simply replied ‘It is the day of the pig’…nuff said, we’re going.

We’d sorted out it was kicking off on December 21st with ‘things’ happening at 9AM, 1PM, 4:30 & 6:30PM – but what, who knew? So as 1PM rolled round, we departed our flat to see what we could see.

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Estupendo Day – Crowds Are Out!

Whoa! Our High Street Calle San Pedro was packed to the rafters with stalls selling all forms of charcuterie, cheeses, pastries & cakes & breads, fruit & veg and a food court area offering up fresh steamed pulpo & the sausage of the day – txistorrra. We managed to squeeze through the crowds to arrive at the txistorra & cider counter & ordered up plate & a glass…made for an excellent mini-lunch. And we were most surprised & excited to find out that all the San Pedro bars plated up free txistorras with every drink order – perfecto! But our finest version of the day came at our local bar where mate Idoia cooks them in cider – best of the bunch.

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Snails, Pulpo & Veggies….

And blessed with yet another gorgeous no-end-to-summer day, the punters were out in force making last minute holiday purchases for the fast approaching Feliz Navidad. And since our plan for the Big Day was a hike & picnic in the Jaizkibel mountains (blog post coming up), supplies needed to be procured! We picked up some stunning blue cheese (from Asturia but not seen that often in these parts) and some delicious (and quite expensive) cecina de buey (oxen). Cecina is the Spanish version of bresaola, an air-dried & salted beef but this came from an oxen. Superb! Melt in your mouth tender & packed with flavour.

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Star of the Day – Txistorra sausage & Cider…

Love this bit about Spain – seems every other day of the week some type of festival be going on with food & drink at the heart of it…my kind of place.

Hondarribia Regatta – We Won!

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It can be difficult sometimes living in the Basque Country to always know what is going on as many, if not most event posters are all in Basque. We can generally figure out the potential date, sometimes the time and place but many times we can figure out nada. But the Hondarribia Regatta race is not hard to miss as the WHOLE TOWN goes nuts & gets decked out in the team colours wearing t-shirts, polo shirts, neckerchiefs and hats.

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Team Leader Billie…Back of da Bike

The race starts just off the Hondarribia beach & then heads out to sea & out of sight – this, like most sporting events, is best viewed in a pub or bar on a wide screen HD television. But we thought it an event worth being part of, so we rigged up a bike box for Hound #1 & set off for the starting line.

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Grill Master

Mucho crowds of people were out to support the team & many, many more shouting encouragement from their balconies. We wandered into the festival feeding area (as you do) and were just stunned at the food on offer. A Grill Master was in full charge of his hotter than hot bed of burning coals & grilling fresh tuna in all of its forms. Hondarribia is a decent sized fishing port and the fish on offer is estupendo and super fresca.

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Hot As…

We snatched 2 cañas of cold, cold San Miguel and made a bee line for the pintxo people and we were again stunned, for a single € we were handed a fist sized piece of perfectly grilled tuna steak! We wish they had these regatta races every week so we could eat like kings for paupers’s prices….

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What A Pinto for €1!

And Hound #1 was 100% in the team spirit with his newly purchased Hondarribia Team Neckerchief. And WE WON!

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Head Cheerleader Billie!

The Frome Super Market – Awesome!

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Jam Packed!

The Hounds were lucky enough to have moved to Frome, Somerset in time for the final Frome Super Market of the year – most excellent holiday shopping to be had for sure. This is an amazing event – the entire town centre & surrounds are totally shut down to traffic and vendors from far & wide descend to set up shop for the day.

And the breadth of what was on offer boggles the mind: antiques & collectibles, arts & crafts, artwork, baked goods, deli goods, charcuterie, cheeses galore, food stalls, wine & beer, buskers station, jewelry, clothing, homewares, books….phew! Not only were our heads spinning but so were our wallets! And what was really impressive was the high percentage of serious quality goods versus the usual market cheap & nasty (socks from China, the  ₤1- ₤2 stands selling batteries to toilet rolls).

The market is fuzzily set up in precincts with vendors grouped somewhat together by merchandise being sold (e.g., antiques & collectibles in the Cheese & Grain car park, various food stalls along the fantastic local St. Catherines Street shopping area which is worth a visit anytime).

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Market Mix

The food section of the market was particularly impressive to us food & wine hounds. Tasted many excellent cheeses but since our domestic fridge was almost chocka with numerous varieties we had to limit ourselves to one (took many cards & notes though & will return!). And that one was the Westcombe Dairy’s unpasteurized cheddar – wow. These guys were named the Best Food Producer 2012 by the BBC’s Food & Farming Awards and it is not at all hard to see why.

We also had a good chat to the Hombre from Majorca who runs The Spanish Buffet stall (down from Cardiff, Wales – go figure) as most things Spanish seem to warm our hearts (and stomachs). Everything looked so tempting but opted for 4 serious chorizo sausages to add a bit of punch to our beans & pastas. Besides the wonderful fine foods on offer he was also whipping up a massive pot of paella and as starters, the glorious pintxos!

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Hola to Spanish Delicacies…

And the folks from Moonacre Farm were foodies after my own heart – locally made charcuterie from rare breed, free range pigs and off beat veggies that included several potato varieties we’d never heard of (bought some Linda’s). James Sherwin is the curer extraordinaire and after sampling most of his wares, had to open the wallet one more time for a half stick of his salami.

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Local Charcuterie…

And about noon time, we were beginning to drag a wee bit so we returned to the antiques & collectibles section where Claud The Butler coffee was holding court to a decent queue, in a vintage Citroën van. A perfecto pick us up – not for Hound #1 though!

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Collectibles, Westcombe Dairy Cheese & Coffee…

And who better to close the show with on Super Market Day than Frome’s very own Mayor – the Honourable Dickon Moore who is the youngest mayor ever of Frome, if not of any city or town in the UK we’d bet!

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Da Mayor of Frome!

So if you ever need an awesome day out, that is packed full of fun, then put the Frome Super Market date on your calendar – pronto!

Bridport Food Festival 2013

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Saturday the 15th of June was the main event of the week long Bridport Food Festival and despite weather that was far closer to a winter’s day, folks turned up in droves and by all measures adopted a stiff upper lip & got on with having some fun. The festival was originally conceived and launched by River Cottage’s Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall back in 2004 and now in its 10th year the festival attracts many locals as well as a decent chunk of out-of-towners (like us).

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Sausages, Ciders, Beers and Baked Goods – oh yum.

We were quite impressed with the size, scope and depth of the festival – pretty much something to interest or tempt just about everyone (we managed to open our wallets on numerous occasions). If you had a hunger pang, a smorgasbord of food options were on offer; if you needed to quench a pestering thirst, the Roundtable Beer festival was doing a roaring business and there was just about every other form of comestible delicacy for taste or sale.

Besides seeing many new producers, it was also nice to see some known and old favourites. We had previously met The Bartlett family and sampled  Wootton Organic Diary’s wares at the monthly Bridport Farmers Market. Their festival stand was swarming with cheesey folks but we managed to snag a serious chunk of the Millstone, an unpasteurized sheep’s milk cheese that was bursting with flavour.

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Wootton Organic Dairy

Another recognisable and nice to see face at the festival were the folks from Bothen Hill Organic Produce. They are our ‘go to’ people for our weekly seasonal asparagus fix (we find them at our farm shop local Miller’s in Kilmington) where we usually have to purchase at least 2 bunches to quell the craving. You can also visit the farm on Fridays from 10 to 12 to get your asparagus fresh as but make sure you study your map & directions closely as they be off the beaten track.

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Bothen Hill Organic Produce – Super Fresh Asparagus

And it was no surprise to us to find Capreolus Fine Foods and Wyld Meadow Farm in the festival lineup. Capreolus’s Dave (head popping out from the sausage row below) knows his way around a cornucopia of charcuterie and he makes excellent use of Dorset & Devon’s key ingredient – meat. As we mentioned in a previous blog post, the art of charcuterie or smoking meats is not as widely practised in the UK as it is in Italy or Spain to name just two but Capreolus can fill the void just fine.

And Wyld Meadow Farm is on our weekly shopping list (again, we find them well stocked at Miller’s Farm Shop) for carefully, well raised beef and lamb. It is not only important what quality food you eat but more directly what your animals eat & how they are cared for that makes all the difference.

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2 Old Faves – Capreolus Fine Foods & Wyld Meadow Farm

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James’s Cheeses – Love A Washed Rind Fromage!

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Honey Pot Ciders

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Tempting Treats…Olives, Olives, Olives…Hound #1 In-dog-nito

And to make it a fun fest for the whole crowd, dogs were most welcome. In addition to several sausage samples, Hound #1 found a new friend…he likes the fluffy ones.

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Pooch Smooch…