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Eat, eat and love: Gastro-heaven in San Sebastian


“Come, come… you eat more!”
    
I accept another choice morsel the restauranteur has been proffering with a “thank you, kind sir!” in my pidgin Spanish.
    
I’m only in my second tapas bar in the city of San Sebastian in the Basque country, and I’m already stuffed.
    
San Sebastian, or Donostia in Euskera, the confounding language of the Basques, is situated right on the Bay of Biscay in the North of Spain. It was here in San Sebastian that Jake Barnes, Hemingway’s hero in “The Sun Also Rises” recuperated after the hecticity of the San Fermin festival in Pamplona.

This elegant little city is the country’s culinary capital, boasting more Michelin stars per inhabitant than anywhere else on the planet. However, the beauty of “San Seb” is in the quality and affordability of the everyday fare offered in the old part of town. La ciudad vieja has a number of bars which serve tapas, known in the Basque country as “pintxos,” (pronounced peen-chohs.) These range from simple rolls of bread topped with mouth watering ham, to an array of fresh seafood that looks might it jump off the plate and wink at you. Tapas are an Andalucian creation, but you definitely won’t find any better in Spain.
    
The premise is delightful. You walk in, next choosing to either exhaust an array of cold delicacies straight off of plates laying on the bar or order from the hot menu off the blackboard; have a small glass of beer, pay up, then move to the bar next door and repeat. Prices range from €1 to €4, and you pay by the tooth-pick or by the plate when you’re finished.

When travelling, it’s usually advisable to do as the locals do. In this case, it is to have an early evening beer and a pinxto or three to help stave off hunger before the main evening meal. However, it’s not long before I find myself digressing from this tradition. Gorgeous wedges of Spanish omlette, slithers of wafer thin jamon, grilled baby shrimp perched on delightful little crusty-bread-cracker doobries, a glass of cold beer to wash it down – I’m hooked, and after 20 minutes of eating I find myself gormandised and supremely happy. The atmosphere is convivial, with the friendly, incomprehensible chatter of the locals only punctuated by the sizzling of the grill in the back. The sights and sounds of the locals enjoying txikiteo (the specific moniker assigned to identify their pre-dinner, bar hopping, pintxos-indulging extravaganza), is intoxicating.
    
Working off the previous day’s indulgences is pleasant. I trek up to see the statue of Jesus which sits atop Monte Urgull. He has a stunning view up here; San Sebastian is surrounded by amorphous green foothills, beautiful and surprisingly verdant in the haze. I follow up the hike with a quick swim in La Concha bay; a picturesque, crescent moon shaped beach which is right in the middle of town.
    
The sky is a deep blue, and the sun coruscates off the water which is gently undulating into my ears as I lay floating on my back. Yet I can’t help but wonder, “what time’s dinner?”

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