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A Foodie’s Guide to San Sebastian

San Sebastian, Spain

When we think of Spain, we normally think of tapas and sangria right? But did you know that Spanish cuisine differs from region to region and that the food in San Sebastian boasts some of the most unique and delicious dishes in all of the country?

Located up north in Spain’s Basque Country, San Sebastian is truly a hidden gem. Not only is this area diverse in its landscape (think lush greenery and cool Atlantic climate), but it’s also linguistically unique, with the Basque language having no known modern relatives. Historically, it has had limited influence from the North African Moorish people who dominated most of the country for over 500 years meaning the religion, culture and food in San Sebastian has developed differently from the rest of Spain.

So how can you experience the best food that San Sebastian has to offer? 

Start small with pintxos 

The best way to experience the food in San Sebastian is to indulge in txikiteo (pronounced chick-ee-tay-oh) –  a budget-friendly, self-guided pub crawl through the centre of the old town. Simply order 1-2 pintxos at each bar, and make sure to pair it with a cup of the classic txakoli wine. 

Pintxos (pronounced pin-choss) form the backbone of Basque cuisine. These bite-sized pieces of food aren’t a specific dish – but rather a style. The word pintxo comes from the Spanish verb pinchar, which means to poke or stab, as the bite-sized food comes skewered with a toothpick. The trend started around the 1930s when bars across the city started to create miniature versions of tapas, displaying them along their bars to encourage a more intimate and laid-back experience. 

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Wash it down with Txakoli

Txakoli (pronounced cha-ko-lee) is a fresh, dry white wine from the Basque country. Similar to French champagne, its production is protected meaning it can only be produced in this region. Txakoli is slightly fizzy and tart with a low alcohol content. The best part about ordering txakoli isn’t even the taste, but the showmanship, being poured 30cm above your glass to both aerate and promote its effervescent quality. 

Some of the best places to try pintxos and txakoli are in the heart of San Sebastian’s old town. Our top picks include:

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Go big on the beef

For something to sink your teeth into, you can’t go past traditional Txuleta (pronounced choo-letta). Steak may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Spain, but thanks to its climate, San Sebastian boasts some of the most delicious aged grass-fed beef. This T-bone is THICC, sold by the kilo, served rare, and almost always matched with the local cider to wash it down.

Enjoy crisp local cider

Don’t tell the French, but it is often said that Northern Spaniards make the best cider in the world! It’s typically cloudy, slightly tart and not as fizzy as your average cider. A completely natural blend boasting only fermented apples, it too is served from great heights to help create the foam on top and release its aroma.  

The best place to enjoy both Txuleta and cider is at a traditional cider house, known as a sagardotegi. Most cider houses are only open during cider season from the end of January through to the end of April, however, several houses still serve up unlimited cider and juicy cuts of beef year-round.

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For unmissable steak and cider in San Sebastian, try:

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Level up with Michelin

Did you know that San Sebastian has one of the highest concentrations of Michelin starred restaurants in the world? One theory as to why is thanks to the gastronomical societies, known as “txokos”. These originated in the late 19th century as exclusive clubs where men gathered to share culinary skills, socialise, and celebrate their Basque heritage. It is these clubs, cooking traditions, and commitment to high-quality local ingredients which led to the food in San Sebastian gaining legendary Michelin status.  

San Sebastian currently boasts 10 Michelin starred restaurants. Plus, this city offers much better value for money Michelin meals compared to larger cities such as Barcelona or Madrid, with lunch-tasting menus starting as low as 60 euros. Real foodies with flare, prepare to book ahead for these culinary delights:

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Finish with something a little sweet

For foodies with a sweet tooth, San Sebastian offers an unmissable regional specialty that has recently taken the world by storm: the Basque cheesecake. Also known as “burnt” cheesecake, it was first created in the 1990s by chef Santiago Rivera at La Vina Café by experimenting in his kitchen, removing the cookie base and increasing the temperature of the oven, leading to an almost burnt exterior. The cake itself has a rich creamy texture and the burnt exterior gives it a distinct caramelised flavour.

There are now a number of places to get your hands on this delicious dessert in town:

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Want to experience it IRL?

From small budget bites to big eats, Michelin stars and everything in between, the food in San Sebastian is a taste of paradise. Wander the streets and let your nose guide you towards what is sure to be an unforgettable meal

Looking to tempt your taste buds on your next travels? Contiki offers several Spanish trips that will take you through the incredible city of San Sebastian. 

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