Our Most Memorable Meal in Spain (Zestoa, Spain)

Written by Mark McElroy

Our day out with Aitor Delgato (one of two great guides you should use if you’re visiting the Basque region) begins with a  tour of San Sebastian. We’re lucky; despite the Basque region’s reputation for rainy days, the air is suffused with the kind of cold, bright sunshine that makes taking a bad photo impossible:


And if the little port and the beach look nice close up (and they do), they look even better from the panoramic overlook outside an historic hotel:


And while I love historic sights and panoramic views, you know me well enough to know what else we spent the morning doing, don’t you?

If you love really good food, Spain is a country where you’ll be spoiled for choice. And we were! Even a casual mid-morning stroll through San Sebastian took us past local eateries serving up cheap, delicious pintxos (say “pinch-ohs“) — fresh, hardy little treats, washed down with local wines. Eating pintxos is like having a progressive dinner, pausing to eat a different, distinctive bite at every stop along the way. So, at one place, you might have shrimp, eel, and fresh mozzarella on toast points:


While, at the next, you might prefer to go dancing with “Gilda” — the quintessential pintxo, made with an anchovy filet, guindilla peppers, and olives:



One is crunchy; the other is soft. One is hardy, like a little seafood pizza on the tongue; the other is a burst of competing flavors: the saltiness of the anchovies, the sharp tang of the peppers, and the soft, savory luxury of the pitted olives.

There are literally dozens of choices at every stop — and all so beautifully prepared! And you have to be careful, too, because what looks, at first, like buffalo mozz might turn out to be a dollop of creamed codfish instead. Fortunately, we had Aitor with us, who not only knows the best places, but also the best bites at each place:


You’d think that, after a morning spent gobbling down pintxos, we’d avoid lunch. But you know me better than that, don’t you? And so we end up in rural, out-of-the-way Zestoa:


It’s odd to see a huge lot full of cars parked around what looks, at first, like a deserted, vine-choked mill by a muddy river:


But this turns out to be Bedua, an out-of-the way, “locals only” place known for serving up the thickest, juiciest, best-prepared steaks pretty much anywhere. While we wait for a table, we meet the owner, who is tending a massive grill on the back porch patio. With my broken Spanish, I ask if I can snap a photo of his work:



His recipe is simple. From a huge slab of beef, he slices his own thick steaks and then tosses them on the grill, dusting each with a handful of coarsely-ground sea salt.

Once we’re inside, we find ourselves in the most communal, lively space you can imagine. The ceiling is low, supported by thick, dark wooden beams and stone walls. And people aren’t here just to eat — though there’s a lot of eating going on. They’re here to live. They’re talking. They’re relaxing over bottles of local wine. They’re rolling out lengths of green felt and playing cards after lunch.

Can you imagine what would happen in an American steakhouse if you settled in to drink coffee and play cards after dessert?

And so we do the same. Concerns with time and touring drop away, and we’re just in the moment, savoring rare (actually, very rare — and no, it didn’t matter!) steaks and table full of delicious side dishes. And freshly baked bread. And ice cream. And, of course, good company. All told, we spend a little more than two hours in this place, just soaking up the ambience (and the calories) and swapping stories about life in Spain versus life in the States.

It’s one of the most relaxing and delicious meals I can recall — one of those perfect moments, when you’re just completely content. I even say so, out loud: “Right now, in this moment, I’m completely content.”

Clyde gives me a look. “Write that down,” he says to our friends.

That feeling of total contentment lingers long after we leave Bedua for our last appointment of the day: watching the sun set on the craggy beaches of Zumaia.



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Mark McElroy

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