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Continuing the Culture of Food in San Sebastian, Spain

Food in San Sebastian, Spain

Part 1: The Culture of Food in San Sebastian, Spain

Restaurant Ni Neu is in the modern building on the surfing beach where the serpentine river that bisects San Sebastian reaches the bay. Chef Mikel Gallo presented an array of pretty and fantastic tasting dishes. But the one I remember most was the one almost too pretty to eat.

Chef Gallo called it an Iberian Pork Carpaccio with nut vinaigrette, but it was so artistically plated that I wanted to hang it on the wall. Iberian pork is superior to any in the world, so you know this tasted as great as it looked. His other dishes were as delightful as were his wine pairings.

Especially his roasted lamb medallion served on a creamy bed of Irati cheese. Ni Neu is a relaxed unpretentious restaurant in the center of everything with great food and views.

From the heights above San Sebastian proper, the Michelin Star restaurant Mirador de Ulia overlooks the great surfing beach in an older section of the city, but as far as culinary details, it overlooks nothing. Chef Ruben Trincado grew up in the house where his grandmother ran a small family-style restaurant.

His father cooked there and specialized in stews. Chef Ruben is the third generation chef and the one who steered Mirador de Ulia to its Michelin Star. He said “We use only pure ingredients and respect the traditions of our countrymen. But, I learned that if I can make a dish better while being true to its roots, it is okay to improve.” That is how a menu of traditional ingredients can look and taste so different from the old ways of cooking.

He served us oyster ice cream, apple foam and yolk emulsion – the molecular cuisine made world famous at El Bulli – but with a sophisticated homey-ness and charm all his own. Everything was in tiny, very pretty bites, but I especially liked his anchovies.

They were so fresh tasting, and the elegant touch of toasting the crumb topping at the table brought more incredible smoky aromas to the dish. It was spectacular!

Mirador de Ulia, with its logo of a rooster after the one that used to follow Chef Ruben around as a little boy, has stunning views in and outside the restaurant. The tasting menu is 99 Euros without wine.

Finally, a traditional meal in Basque country is at a cidery. For centuries cider production was normal on farms in the region. Fresh hard cider consumption is seasonal, from January through April, with bottled cider available all year round.

Cider or beer is the traditional drink with pintxos, the Basque version of Spanish tapas, or little dishes. But at the cideries themselves, meals are served at communal tables, shared with convivial strangers.

Main dishes of cod omelets, green pepper omelets, and grilled rare beef rib steaks, plus cheese and quince jelly with walnuts are placed on the table and you eat what you want directly from them. They serve no individual plates. There’s a loaf of bread to break up, utensils and napkins – that’s it. And when you want more cider you go into the barrel filled cellar and pour your own. The sour taste of the cider is off-putting to me, but it is widely popular as a drink and as a communal meal event – one that must be experienced when in Basque country.

For more information on these and other restaurants and attractions of Donostia/San Sebastian please visit this website.

Written by Richard Frisbie

Richard Frisbie is a travel, culinary, and garden writer whose work has appeared in a broad range of print and online venues, including EDGE Publications, InsideOut magazine,, and others. He is also owner of Hope Farm Press, editing and publishing regional books on New York State. Visit his websites,

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