Sunday, December 06, 2009

The History of Basque Cuisine

This article was published at the Buenos Aires Herald:

50,000 years of culture in kitchen

Dereck Foster

The area that comprises the south-east corner of the Bay of Biscay is that which, invading a small portion of France and a larger portion of Spain, is where Basque culture and cuisine flourishes with all its traditional originality and flavour. Within the many varied regional cuisines that can be detected within Europe, that of the Basque country is an important leader. According to María José Sevilla, a food historian, who has analysed Basque culture in depth , this can be traced back at least 50,000 years and has, in its essence, undergone only cosmetic changes imposed by the advent of modern techniques and modernised ingredients.

What is the basic character of Basque cuisine? The Basque nation has always been dominated by the sea, and Basques have been notable seafarers. As a result the true flavour of Basque food leans strongly towards the sea. It is no secret that tuna and cod are important ingredients that figure in many traditional Basque recipes. Who visits a Basque restaurant does so — unless totally ignorant of the theme — expecting to discover a menu strongly imbued with fish and seafood. But we must not forget the importance that roast lamb, fungi and dried pulses also enjoy within a Basque menu.

Basques, true to their naval traditions, are great travellers, frequently emigrating — because of mostly political reasons — and setting up important colonies abroad. It is only normal that, deep in their baggage, they pack their gastronomic traditions. Argentina is no exception. We have a large and active Basque colony, larded with a great number of restaurants and food outlets with a Basque origin. As is the case with many styles of cooking, exporting to different climes is not easy. Rarely does food in different climes resemble exactly that of the original. Basque cuisine is no exception, but in spite of this we do enjoy a high level of Basque restaurants in Buenos Aires and the rest of Argentina. One of them is, without discussion, Sagardi (Humberto Primo 319, 4361-2538), nestling in the very heart of San Telmo.

50,000 years of Basques cuisine tradition, Spain has been around for 500 years tops, you do the math.

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