Basque Artisanal Beer Fest In Irun…

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Artesanal Cerveza Fest!!!!!

Another week in Spain, another festival! It seems a week just cannot go by without a festival or carnival or big event happening here. This past weekend was the artisanal beer fest hosted by our next door neighbour, Irun. Artisanal beers have, as in the rest of the world, hit Spain like a big cerveza tsunami. People seem to be craving for and are enjoying brews with a bit more punch or flavour than the bog standard bar pours like Heineken or Amstel. And like elsewhere, the Big Boys are taking notice with several small breweries being snapped up by the corporate big fellas.

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The Beer Bash Kicks Off…

This was a 2 day event held at the Irun event centre called FICOBA. It is a vast hall with garage doors an 18 wheeler could easily pass through with space to spare and there were at least 2 dozen breweries in attendance as well as a dozen or so pop up food trucks. The admission fee was €5 which got you in and a ‘special’ tasting glass, but to actually drink the beer costs a wee bit extra :-(. As a general if not universal rule, artisanal beer cost a tad more than your normal pour, and that was the case here. Our special glasses held 200ml of the precious liquid (a normal caña of local beer like Mahou or Keler is around 350ml or more depending on the pour & runs 2 euros – $3NZ, $2.80AUS, £1.72BP, $2.1US) and the general price was €2.5 ($3.75NZ, $3.5AUS, £2.15BP, $2.65US) but sometimes €3. We have a great specialty beer bar in the Casco Antiguo area of Hondarribia called EtxeBerria, which only serves artisanal brews and a small pour is normally €3-4 and a caña size is in the the €5-7 range (sort of like the rest of the world).

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Serious Artisanal Brewing on show here…also very high alcohol levels…like 7% or 8% for most.

One of my all round favourite styles of beer is the IPA (India Pale Ale), so that was the theme I stuck to for the day and sampled about 5 or 6…tough to do much more embibing as the alcohol levels averaged 6-8%, so even after just 2 you could feel the buzz and drinking during the day is not my usual modus operandi. I tend to like my IPA a bit chunky, with serious flavour & what can be described as chewiness so the Little Bichos (‘bicho’ translates to ‘creatures’) IPA took the fist place prize. And it was slightly ironic given my fave beer in Australia was Little Creatures…not sure who copied who!

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Da Food Trucks – Big Help!

And thank the Food Gods that be that there were a series of decent pop up food trucks on hand, otherwise it may have all been over before it began! We had a good squizzy and everyone opted for the appetising Gala hamburger stall – Hamburguesa Tex Mex to be precise. Generally an excellent dish (which I washed down with another IPA from Naparbier) but Hound #2 complained – ‘Not spicy enough for a Tex Mex burger’…oh well, she’s a tough one to please.

All in all a most fun event – not too tough an assignment to drink well crafted artisanal beers on a semi-rainy Saturday arvo with next to no crowd hassles & loads of way cool beermeisters manning the stalls to talk shop. Can’t wait till the next fest ;-)…

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Top Left: Box of Special Fries & Hot Sauce; Gala Food Truck Burger Menu; Gala Burgers on Display; Our ‘Special’ Beer Glass

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Top Left: Bob’s Beer (Bob’s English) from France; Brew & Taps from Bar Boulevard; Dos Borachas (2 Drunks); Naparbier from Navarra; Free Lions Beer Coaster

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Mercado Urdanibia (Irun, España) – Estupendo!!!

I had promised after my last blog post that I would return to Irun to have a decent gander at the market that takes place every Saturday in Plaza Urdanibia – well, here it is. The weather gods looked to be co-operating to a fair degree (generally cloudy but no effing rain) so with any early start we snagged a place on the E25 bus for downtown Irun….

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Busy Market Scenes On A Crisp Autumn Saturday….

This market is VERY popular with the local folks – anytime a temporary stall needs to employ a ticket numbering system you know they will be busy! I like a lot of things about this market, and some not so much. My likes are: (a) tremendously wide selection of products (mostly local) on offer at precios fenomenales (as in LOW) from charcuterie to cheeses to olives to dry goods (beans) to veggies; (b) the overall quality is superb – with many of the stall holders clearly being the actual person who grew or made it; (c) it has a real market feel with lots of noisy, up beat chatter & jokey banter back & forth between the vendors & customers and amongst the customers themselves as many appear to be regulars.

My dis-likes are: (a) Besides all the fantastic food folks here, this market also has a fair bit of tat as in cheap & tacky clothes, shoes, etc…which I feel detracts from the food side; (b) and there appear to be 2 fruit & veggie sections – one side is clearly folks who have been straight to the wholesale produce market earlier in the day & purchased their lots to on sell here, while the other side of the aisle is made up of locals with private allotments or gardens, and they are here to sell what they actually grow. We shop with the latter crowd and have yet to be disappointed.

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Fruit & Veg…

As good and fresh as the local fruit & veggie sections are, it is the stalls of cheeses, charcuterie, olives, etc…that really grab my heart and stomach’s attention. I have been a quite rabid fan of these products from an early adult age and I can get a bit giddy when starring at such a cornucopia of taste sensations. A serious level of restraint is always attempted because we are a small household (just 2 people & one dog) and we hate to see any delicious food go to waste.

So on this visit we managed to pick up:

  • 2 fat chorizo sausages that the vendor claimed were ‘muy picante’ and another one that we tasted that was just barely picante but full of flavour;
  • Amazingly powerful, flavourful goats cheese in an ash covered rind (see photo below – 3rd photo down on the left);
  • A wee round loaf of wood oven baked bread;
  • Piles of local apples;
  • A stuffed bag of clementines from the actual grower who had driven from Valencia to sell at this market;
  • A beautiful bunch of red onions & a midget of a butternut squash.
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From the Deli Section of the Market….

So if you are an Irun or Hondarribia or San Sebastián & surrounds local, the mercado at Plaza Irdunibia is well worth the effort to explore. And after you have done your required market shop, make a bee line for one of the best wine shops around – Vintoteca Mendibil (subject of a future blog post) – to top up your shopping basket with essential bottles.

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Charcuterie Cornucopia!

Irun – A World of Markets…

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Mercado Mercairun, Irun, Basque Country

The Hounds have made several Irunian forays for a variety of reasons but we had a ‘reminder’ note to venture back to have a damn decent squizzy of a covered market we’d discovered on out first outing. Post a quick Google search to track down the market’s exact location, we soon discovered Irun has not just 1 market (Mercado de Uranzu), not just 2 markets (Mercado Mercairun), but 3 (Mercado de Urbanibia)!!!!

Due to a rather late rising, we decided to make a beeline for Mercado Mercairun which is the 2nd Irunian covered market we’d yet to lay our eyes on or to sample their wares…

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Anyone for a Steak? Seriously Aged Beef Here…

Well it’s all here in spades folks – pick your section & be prepared to be excited & also overwhelmed. As it was Saturday, and late in the morning, the market had probably already seen its early dash but mucho folks were still queued up at the most popular stalls filling their trolleys with everything from succulent steaks to a charcuterie cornucopia to gleamingly fresh seafood.

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Fresh Off Da Boat…In Every Shape, Size & Colour

Although Spain certainly has its share of supermarket chains like most other Western countries (and they are heavily utilised too), it is refreshing and awesome to see a community or town or city that wholly embraces a market(s) & heartily shops this way. Markets like these provide the best of all food worlds: like a supermarket, they offer the convenience of one-stop-shopping, but with the mega advantage of choosing and buying from small, independent businesses (in many cases artisanal) that actually may give a shite about the products they sell. And clearly long term vendor/customer relationships were in evidence here with some stalls having folks stacked 3-4 deep with quick & snappy banter being fired across the hall.

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Not To Be Outdone, The Veggie Section On Splendid Display…

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Top Notch Charcuterie…Pata-Negra de Belota Is As Good As It Gets!

In the up & coming Local Food Hound posts there will be one about the 3rd market – the Mercado de Urbanibia – which I stumbled upon pretty much by accident. It is an outdoor market that is held in the massive Plaza de Urbanibia with more than 150 stall holders selling everything from socks & shoes to superb charcuterie, cheeses & olives….you know an outdoor food market is good when the temporary stalls need to employ a ticket turn dispenser! I really wanted to buy some olives but the last number called out was #62 and my ticket was #85! Next time…

And I’d be a wee bit remiss if I did not mention & include a follow up post on the stupendous Vinoteca Mendibil – easily one of the best vino stores I have visited since moving to España!

Opilla…¿Qué es?

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Undecipherable Posters…

These mysterious posters started to make an appearance around Hondarribia in the last week or so. Once again, mostly in Basque, so of little help to the Hounds to try & figure out if some big, fun festival or event was close to happening. We could determine that a fancy cake called an ‘Opilla‘ (at €27 must be super fancy) was involved, that came decorated with real & chocolate eggs. Easter linkage of some kind? Another religious connection? Simple secular party? Pagan ritual?

We started to ask questions…we first queried our mates at cafe Amona Margarita who are usually good for pertinent advice or insight. Nada…no real meaning at all they said – simply a special cake made just in the local Hondarribia/Irun/San Sebastián region and folks pick one up (or two) & take the family & friends out to el campo (the countryside), loaded down with beverages of the alcoholic kind & party hearty.

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Marvellous Mirren Does Her Magic with the Mystery Cake…at Amona Margarita.

Apparently many of the local schools are none too pleased about the Opilla day as it causes a minor/major disruption in the school day & week…there seems to be an effort to squash the whole kit & kebob. Party poopers. Happy Opilla Day to you folks!

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Opal Cake Production Line & the Real Goods on Display & for Sale.

Mariño

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Bar Mariño

The Food Hounds got an invitation we could not refuse from our mate Idoia to join her on a Sunday luncheon excursion to Bar Mariño in Irun. Bar Mariño has made a name for itself (and deservedly so) for having a way with pulpo (octopus). There was no way this was not going to be fun…

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Octopi in the House

Post a short hop on the E22 bus, we toddled our way to Bar Mariño & it was hopping. Sunday is a BIG family day in Spain and it was quite clear that many of the Irunian/Hondarribian families had descended on Bar Mariño…fortunately our mate Idoia had made a reservation and seemed to be known by just about every one at the bar & all those who worked there. She’s as local as local gets…

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Pulpo! Pulpo! Pulpo!

We did not waste any time & put ourselves in the most capable hands of Idoia & she ordered away for the table. Two steaming hot plates of just cooked pulpo quickly arrived at the table along with a fat carafe of local white vino that Idoia said was perfecto with pulpo…no arguments there. So we tucked in, and tucked in again & again & wiped up the savoury juices with crispy, crusty bread…Dios mio.

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Mushrooms, Lamb and Veal Courses….

Then to balance it all out we went a wee bit veggie with some wonderful sautéed mushrooms followed by super tender, slow cooked veal & lamb…dropping off the bone it was, just dropping off the bone. And the bread came to the rescue once again as some much needed juice mops. I could almost say no plate cleaning was required by the kitchen staff…

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Outside & In…

So if you ever find yourself in Hondarribia or Irun and you fancy some serious taberna food with a speciality of pulpo, turn on your GPS tools (it is not easy to find) & locate Mariño. You will NOT be disappointed….we are most def going back!