Stretching between the blue waters of the Bay of Biscay and the mountainous peaks of the Pyrenees, the Basque Country is its own kind of wonderful. It connects southern France with Northern Spain, forming a small yet mighty region that’s absolutely not to be missed. With a different language, a unique history, and an atmosphere like no other, it feels utterly distinct from the rest of France…
…So it’s not surprising its cuisine does, too.
Seafood, stews, and something sweet
While you’ll be able to enjoy all sorts of Basque cuisine wherever you are in the region, there are definitely some notable flavour trends that you’ll find on the Spanish side and on the French side.
Spanish Basque cuisine favours the sea, with an abundance of fresh tuna, hake, and locally caught salt cod being transformed into mouth-watering dishes like bacalao, kokotxas, and marmitako.
The French side tends to offer a little more in the way of comfort food. It’s hearty and warming – quite literally. French Basque dishes are frequently peppered with the region’s most famous chilli: the espelette. It’s not mouth-burningly hot like Latin American peppers but boasts a gently warming heat. This adds an iconic punch to tasty Basque dishes like axoa de veau or poulet Basquaise.
Of course, not all French Basque dishes are sprinkled with espelette. The region’s desserts include the Basque cake – a gâteau filled with cream or tangy black cherry jam – which is perhaps the most well-known.
A modern take on old traditions
Although it’s easy to find plenty of traditional Basque flavours in southern France, many travellers also flock here for the bolder, more innovative alternatives. Back in the 1970s, the concept of ‘New Basque Cuisine’ was introduced by two chefs who had studied under one of the country’s most famous cooks: the late Paul Bocuse. Juan Mari Arzak and Pedro Subijana combined long-established Basque techniques with trendy Nouvelle cuisine to create something entirely extraordinary. And today, New Basque Cuisine is what’s really solidified the Basque Country’s status as a culinary gem.
Want to sample it all?
There are two great ways to really get stuck into the best the Basque region has to offer. Firstly, by enjoying a selection of pintxos: the Basque Country’s answer to Spanish tapas or Greek mezze. Pintxos is typically more popular in the beachfront bars on the Spanish coast, but there’s plenty in France, too: olives with garlic, guindilla peppers or mussels in escabeche sauce.