Instead of pintxos, we actually had a meal for lunch yesterday the Parte Vieja (Old Part) of San Sebastián. The restaurant was called Ubarrechena and, according to the big blackboard behind our table, the specialty of the house is Caldoso de Arroz con Mariscos, which means seafood in a rice broth. In other words, it’s sort of a liquid paella.
It was served in a just-off-the-boil cauldron in the middle of the table and we were provided with spoons, knives and forks to get all the “goodie,” as my father used to say, out of the cauldron and into our bowls and then into our mouths.
The broth itself was delicious and was seasoned much like a paella–saffron and smoky paprika being the main components of the flavor. Swimming in the stew were large head-on prawns and small shrimp that had been peeled. Also, mussels, squid rings and sweet red peppers. The best way to eat those shrimp is to start at the head by ripping it off the body and slurping out the shrimpy brainy broth. That’s the most intense flavor blast you’re going to get out of any seafood, in my opinion. Now I like the tails of the shrimp just fine, but I still will never be able to understand why it’s hard to buy shrimp with the heads still on in the United States…other than we seem to be a nation of queasy food wimps.
So, we sucked and slurped until everything except an inch or so of ricey broth was left in the tub. The caldoso, plus a very nice salad of lettuce, onion, tomato and tuna, a bottle of white wine from Rueda, and coffee came to €60, including tax and tip. That’s a lot more than we’ll usually spend for lunch, but this was an opportunity to try something new, albeit not too daring, and we seized it. We’re like that.
At that point, we needed to walk it off, and so decided to go around the sea wall of the San Sebastián peninsula. We started at the docks where the fishermen unload their catch of the day, and as we proceeded around, ran into the Basque Maritime Museum. This small museum essentially presents a history of the Basque Whaling Fleet from the 16th to the 20th Centuries. (They’re not doing it any more, of course.) It was a small building with two floors mostly of pictures and a few artifacts like harpoons and pieces of scrimshaw. It cost us €1.20 each, including the loan of a guidebook in Spanish, which is helpful if you don’t have a clue about the Basque language–as anyone who isn’t Basque doesn’t.
Afterwards, we continued around the wall and were enthralled with the views at dusk of the dark green sea crashing against the rocky shore. We were on a road built up over the rocks. Enough, you’d think, to protect you from the water. Not strictly true. I had stopped to take some pictures of an island in the harbor but Kris had gone ahead a bit and was standing at the railing just looking at the sea when a rogue wave hit the rocks hard enough that it actually came over the seven meter wall and completely drenched her. The Spaniards who were taking their evening walk and I all got a pretty good laugh out of that.
As the squishy Kris and I continued around the peninsula back into the old part of town, we ran into another exhibition.
This was a small exhibit of photography put on by what amounts to the photography club of San Sebastián. Sociedad Fotografica de Gipuzkoa it’s called, and the exhibit was about 50 images that were the winning entries of their annual competition. Not all of the photos were from Spain, but many were, and, as a long-time photography fan, I can honestly say it was one of the best concentrations of extraordinary images I’ve ever seen. I encourage you to have a look at the website. The exhibit was free. And, when we stopped to chat with the attendant to tell her how impressed we were with the show, she gave us the book of the previous year’s show, and a CD of this year’s show. (With the crisis in Spain, I don’t think they could afford the printing this year.) Like I said, have a look.
Since we still weren’t quite ready for more pintxos yet, we stopped in the plaza between the big San Sebastián art museum and a church–San Telmo, I think–to watch the kids play soccer for half an hour or so. Actually, I watched the kids. Kris stared into the museum entrance and beckoned me to enter. I was more interested in the soccer at this point, so we didn’t go in. Next time.
Since we’d at least worked up a thirst, if not a hunger by now, we stopped back into Bar La Cepa where we’d been the night before, but only had a bowl of anchovy-stuffed olives to go with our wine. But, with appetites thus whetted we moved up a side street to the bar La Cuchara de San Telmo where we ran, again, into pintxo paradise.
La Cuchara’s specialty is small portions of cooked meats and fish. On the menu were female duck breast (the female is more tender than the male, we were told,) veal cheeks, the ears of jabugo pigs, and, the national fish of the Basque Country, cod. We had some duck, which was stewed with pears and was amazing and then decided to venture a little out of the comfort zone and try the pig’s ear. This was not necessarily a good idea as it turns out a pig’s ear is nothing but gelatinous fat encased in crispy skin. Oh well, if you wash it down with enough beer…
We moved onto a dessert of bitter chocolate terrine with a tart sauce of reduced orange. That more than made up for the pig’s ear.
All the time we were standing at the bar, we were engaged in a far wandering conversation with Alex, the bar man. We covered love, quitting smoking, the deserts of Peru and Chile, and the difficult Basque and English languages.
I now know two words of Basque: Eskerrik asko. Thank you very much.
Get all our travel tips delivered to your inbox
Subscribe to our email newsletter