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!

Bilbao…More Than A Museo Continued…

Saturday morning the weather gods were once again on our side with bright blue skies, decent doses of sun and no wind. First on the ‘to do’ list was a visit to the Mercado de La Ribera – markets are always on our to do list & this market came with some words of high praise.

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Mercado de La Ribera, Bilbao

The market opened in 1929 and used to be housed in a glorious old art deco building but has recently been modernised. It is the largest indoor market in all of Europe to which I can mos def attest. As much as we love markets, it is always a tough visit in that so much of what is on offer we cannot buy as we lack any cold storage. But it is all here folks in spades – we are not sure how the people of Bilbao can possibly buy and consume all the food that was on display. The seafood was blinding in its fresh brilliance and variety. And the meats were the same – Spain is especially good in all things pork and the charcuterie here would possibly make the French a bit envious. We did manage to grab a sweet, fat stick of salchichón for the train ride home – score!

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Mercado de La Ribera, Bilbao – Fish! Fish! Fish!

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Mercado de La Ribera, Bilbao – Estupendo!

We had decided to go a wee bit museo hog wild and plunked down the dosh for a double ticket – the Guggen and the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao. And our experience with this museum was the polar opposite to the Guggenheim – the art was spectacular and enthralling and we could take pictures! The focus of this museum is Spanish painters or artists and we got seriously lost in time here which is what you hope to do in a museum. So if in Bilbao, do yourself a serious art favour and spend a chunk of your time at the Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao (Bodega Urbana is a 5 or less minute walk away for a delish post or pre museo lunch visit – and of course wine).

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Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao

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Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao

We felt s bit peckish after our inspiring art tour, so we made a bee line for Plaza Nueva, again, armed with some postcards to be done and some thirst & hunger to be quenched…hard to believe sitting outside in just a shirt in February in the Northern Hemisphere.

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Mid Day Break…

Saturday night was yet another big pintxo quest and fest…we love this way of eating – have a nice stroll, spot some tempting morsels laid out on a bar top, pick your fave & wash it down with a vino tinto. Repeat. Your appetite is satiated at a much more healthy food consumption level than the sit down feed most folks usually do.

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Pintxo Fest

Armed with our trusty list we made the rounds….and the folks were out this Saturday night given the absence of the wet stuff and a reasonably mild temperature. And we gave it the good old college try – sampling the wares & vinos at Gatz, Motrikes (grilled stuffed mushrooms to die for), Kuku Soak, La Viña del Ensanche and Gure Toki to name but a few…

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Though we like our ‘hot top spot’ lists, we also greatly enjoy a bit of spontaneity and a smidgen of free will or discovery and we were most lucky on this trip to come across a few gems. While weaving in and out of the Old Town laneways, we noticed a happening area across the river near Calle San Francisco. We dutifully crossed the bridge and found ourselves in a clearly up and coming hipster street. Our first stop was El Perro Chico where we were pleasantly surprised to be served El Pájaro Rojo vino (Mencia grape) from Bierzo as the house tinto, an excellent drop and not standard bar juice. We had a peruse of the menu and ticks all our boxes – worth coming back to Bilbao to just eat here! And directly catty corner to El Perro Chico was the super hip Bar Marzana…we will return here. And you should too.

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El Perro Chico…

Returning to the Casco Viejo we got a wee bit lost and landed in Saltsagorri – a vermut bar! What excellent hosts these folks were and the taberna was packed with rowdy, fun crowd. Put it on your lists people – this is a seriously local hole in the wall.

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Saltsagorri, Old Town, Bilbao – Vermut Bar!

But our night was still sort of young (we’re sort of old) so why not a rock concert? Hound #2 had spotted a listing in one of the local entertainment guides for a group called the Reverendos that was playing that night at a venue close by. So off we went – a Basque blues band, who knew? But way fun and rock’n music and an excellent venue.

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The Reverendos….

And you might be surprised to hear but we’d worked up another appetite so we decided to close out our Bilbao stay on a high note and make a return visit to Cafe Iruña to savour the most tasty & spicy Pintxo Moruno – lamb kebabs cooked over a wood fire by Ahmed. These are worth a detour from any place you find yourself in Bilbao – a decent portion of Spanish food lacks any real kick or intense flavours but this had it all.

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Cafe Iruña, Bilbao – Pintxo Moruno…Super Yum.

So for not expecting too much and fearing we may have overbooked our needed time in Bilbao, we came away quite enamoured with this Basque city….so much so we plan to make a return trip before we depart Spain for New Zealand.

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Bilbao Scenes…

 

To Market We Go – In Ordizia, España

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Ordizia’s Wednesday Market – Going Strong After 500+ Years

The Wednesday Market in the town of Ordizia, Basque Country is very well known and it should be as it has been a happening for over 500 years. The market takes over the town plaza centre which is a Roman or Greek looking parthenon type structure that provides good cover in inclement or hotter than hell weather.

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Olives! Come Get Your Olives!

The Hounds had visited the market before on a trip 2 years ago but since we were travellers then, not residents, we were limited in our take. Not this time! We had also been forewarned by a Basque fly fishing mate of mine to take ‘pockets full of money’ because, he said, it was a very expensive market. So all the Hounds piled into our 1975 Series III Land Rover (Gertie) and bumped & bounced our way to Ordizia…

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Hay Muchas Verduras!

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Hay Mucho Queso…

This market pretty much ticks all the right boxes – it is authentic (no wholesalers here), it offers a great selection of local produce & products and the prices, to us foreign folk, seem almost cheap compared to our local Hondarribia Farmers Market (which we love BTW).

The cheeses on display provoke a puzzling question about Spanish cheeses – they all seem to be pretty much the same type and/or style. A medium soft cheese with the body or texture of say a Gouda or Gruyere, but there appear to be no soft cheeses like a Brie or any Washed Rind options (e.g., Saint-Nectaire). One local queso, Idiazabal, has achieved a well deserved international reputation & recognition but it is still in the same style – and expensive.

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Golden Shrooms

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Ceps

The selection can be overwhelming at times, and every turn of a corner or wander down a new aisle brings yet more temptations…and purchases. We were especially taken with the fresh, foraged mushrooms on offer – a decent selection of types and quite affordable prices. We grabbed a good sized bag of the Ceps for a mere €5 or so…estupendo!

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Free Range Huevos or Huevos Camperos

And one of the food items we are really enjoying while we live in the Basque Country of Spain is the vast variety of charcuterie (from chorizo to jamón) we can choose from and this market did not let us down. We are not quite chorizo’d out yet in our first 2 months, but we may be closing in on our ‘peak chorizo experience’!

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The Only Bread Stand – Porqué?

Oddly enough, the market has only 1 baker & bread stall? Not sure how that happened or why a market this size with so many stalls would only have one bread seller.

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Shopping Rewards

And since market shopping on this scale can be tiring, especially with the heat rising & the testing our Spanish language skills to the max, we re-treated to a shady street & procured a bit of refreshment.

So if you happen to find yourself in the Basque Country for whatever reason and you like your food, put the Wednesday Ordizia Market on your to do list!

Viola! A Dash Through France….

In order to get to Spain, we took our car across to Cherbourg on the ferry, which meant a bit of a mad dash southbound, traversing France at a less than a pleasurable, relaxed speed. Bad planning meant forking over a small French king’s ransom to use the toll roads – sacre bleu! At last count, France had squeezed £150 from our weeping wallets. Some of our pain was dutifully eased by a 2 night crash at the sweet Le Moulin Pastelier, run & hosted by expat British folks Donna & Chris.

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Just a spitting distance outside of Toulouse, in the verdant French country side, it made the perfect place for rest & exploration. We were handed some good tips on the local villages and that the big, regional market would take place the next day in Revel.

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Cheeses, Glorious Cheeses – Charles de Gualle was wrongly right.

We love French markets – it puts our faith back (after many years absence) that the French really do know their food. Zut alors! We circled the market square half a dozen times, eyeing up the plethora of cheese, charcuterie, butchers, bread, condiment & veggie stalls and developing a massive case of market produce envy. Our UK markets are good, but the Revel village market was in a seriously different dimension.

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Revel Market Charcuterie Stall – yum.

The charcuterie stalls elicited the most drool as it is an artisanal art form not widely practised in the UK and just beginning to catch hold. In our searches for UK charcuterie courses we have come across just one not in London proper, taught by – you guessed it – a Frenchman.

The choices at the Revel market were beyond overwhelming and it was quite hard, knowing we were going to be in Spain for 3 weeks, to hold back on packing the wee Nissan Micra to the gills with a decent assortment of just about everything the market had on offer.

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3 Little Pigs

The French, besides knowing their food, also know how to do a damn fine job of presentation. They seem to have that je ne sais quoi factor that, with just a minor, subtle twist, the ordinary becomes the extraordinary. Example numero uno – bowl of olives (below) flecked with bits of red peppers.

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Or this almost irresistible, savoury scented humongous pan of a French styled paella…

FRStew And to add the final nail in our argument coffin, whilst having a rest stop at a service centre on aforementioned toll highways to hell, who but the French, instead of shelves stacked with junk food, offer you the option to purchase servings of Duck Confit or perhaps some Raclette or Comte cheeses for your journey…

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