Tips for discovering the gastronomy of Bilbao Biscay by Oihana Abinagoitiz
Oihana Abinagoitiz, who shares our love for good food, will join us on a journey to find the best gastronomic experiences in Bilbao Biscay.
People in Bilbao Biscay are just mad about food, and we are proud to share our passion with the rest of the world whenever we have the chance. We have an insatiable appetite for traditional dishes (prepared either at home or at old-established restaurants), for the innovation and creativity of the most avant-garde local chefs, for the infinity of ‘pintxos’ our pubs display on their bars every day, for all the products grown in our ‘baserris’ (or traditional farmhouses), and for our ‘txakoli’ wine, made in the vineyards scattered all over the region.
“Food brings people together. There’s always something to celebrate, and I always have a new dish for my guests to enjoy.” These words, by our Food Lover Oihana Abinagoitiz, perfectly sum up the true meaning of the cuisine in Bilbao Biscay. Being in love with food and with what food represents for Biscayan people, Oihana knows well that anything can be a good excuse to sit with your family or friends at a table. This is how we celebrate life, in the best company, chatting, singing and trying old and new recipes alike, always accompanied by a bottle of fine txakoli.
One of the best ways to immerse yourself in our gastronomy is by savouring our pintxos, the miniature delicacies that are spread along the bar counters of every pub in Biscay. Oihana says, “what I like the most about cookery is that it is something so easy that anyone can have a go at it, but at the same time, it can be as complex as making the finest piece of art.” And pintxos are just like that, small bits of gastronomy that can range from the simplest forms, such as ‘Gildas’ or ‘Grillos’, to the most elaborate masterpieces born out of the imagination of creative local cooks.
Born and bred in Bilbao, Oihana is perfectly familiar with the areas in the Biscayan capital where the tastiest pintxos can be found: Casco Viejo, the Ensanche, Indautxu, or the city's alternative districts to name a few. Bilbao is a true paradise for Food Lovers since there are pubs everywhere for anyone who wants to try either traditional or more imaginative pintxos. A really fun way to get to know the food culture of the ‘Botxo’ –as we fondly call Bilbao– is by taking one of the tours that combine visits to the pubs with some of the best pintxos with interesting bike rides, which will also allow you discover emblematic places like the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, the modern architecture of Abandoibarra, the historic Siete Calles, the oldest neighbourhoods (Atxuri, San Francisco, and Bilbao La Vieja), and the cosmopolitan city centre,.
If we bear in mind that the base of a good pintxo (applicable to any other dish) is the choice of the best quality fresh produce, knowing where to get its ingredients is equally important. In Bilbao, the tastiest, freshest and most varied ingredients are sold at the Mercado de La Ribera, the city’s gastronomic nerve centre. Inaugurated in 1929, situated next to the church and the bridge of San Antón, the Mercado de la Rivera occupies the space of the former Plaza Mayor, where the town’s main square once lied. Declared the largest food market in terms of traders and stalls in 1990 and the biggest covered market in Europe, it has now been completely renovated and turned into a meeting place where traditional stalls coexist with more modern gastropubs.
The Mercado de La Ribera is also a referent point for those Food Lovers who are interested in learning how to select the finest products and use them to prepare different meals. Oihana, who is constantly learning new things and “discovering new flavours, techniques and textures”, loves attending the workshops and gastronomic experiences organised by the Escuela Superior de Hostelería de Bilbao. All of them are a gift to the senses and offer exciting ways to learn new and traditional recipes (made with the ingredients bought at the market itself) such as cod cooked either ‘al pil-pil’ or ‘a la bizkaina’, or the classic ‘kokotxas’. They have wine tasting experiences that allow you to better understand the characteristics of five types of wine and give you the chance to do things like finding out all the secrets to cook perfect rice, or diving into the mysteries of Japanese cuisine. A very entertaining plan to do with friends or family.
Like every cooking enthusiast, Oihana dreams of “making an innovative avant-garde dish with a great chef” one day, a dish like those prepared in the kitchens of the Michelin-starred restaurants of Bilbao Biscay. She also loves “learning about the origin and the transformation process of each and every ingredient” and she “enjoy[s] it most when it’s done together with the people who make it possible.” That is precisely the reason why an engineer like her, whose work has always been linked to the world of production, has taken so much pleasure in her visit to Gorka Izagirre. At this txakoli winery, she has seen how the grapes used to make the wine, which ripen on the south-facing slopes of the hills of the region, are grown and harvested, acquiring their characteristic taste thanks to the influence of the sea air.
Most Txakoli wineries in Biscay offer unique experiences that combine gastronomy and nature, showing you the whole process they follow to obtain this young fruity wine. The first part of a visit usually takes you to the vineyards to see the harvest and then to the vats where the wine is matured. Later, visitors can taste the wines and discover all their nuances, learning what the best way to pair them with foods like fish or Idiazabal cheese is. But if you really want to know all the secrets of our wine, you must go to Txakolingunea, the txakoli museum in Bakio, where you will have the opportunity to take a look at the history and the evolution over the centuries of one of the most noteworthy Biscayan products in the international scope.
Being in love with food and with what food represents for Biscayan people, Oihana knows well that anything can be a good excuse to sit with your family or friends at a table.