The same goes for San Sebastian's most famous attribute, its food culture. Fine dining is available, the city's restaurants hold 16 Michelin stars between them, yet the place has a smaller population than York. However Basque cooking is not derived, as in France, from a tradition of haute cuisine, it is rooted in the communal tradition of members only gastronomy clubs. In other words good food is woven into the social fabric of the place. Though the clubs themselves are 'closed shops' the tradition of culinary innovation they foster is open to all in form of pintxos, bite sized bar snacks created to look like miniature sculptures and taste sensational. In Bar Azkena in the basement of Brexta market we paid about €2 euros for each pintxos, the cost of lunch with two delicious pintxos each, a glass of Rueda, and a cortado afterwards cost less than €15 for us both. My point is, San Sebastian is an inclusive place, its delights are available to all. To me that is a key attribute of a civilised city.
When we visited last year we notice some kind of political message scratched in huge letters in the sand. It was here again today, the protester was putting the final touches to it as we arrived. "What's all that about? we asked the young couple standing next to us on the promenade. "Oh, he's been doing it for years, it's some kind of campaign against the high levels of property tax in the region."
Food for thought
The presentation of the food adds a contemporary touch. Beautifully wrought pintxos displayed on slabs of polished wood and black slate like something precious in a jeweller's window. After a brief conversation with the customer next to us we chose a duck breast with an intense orange reduction and champagne foam, followed by an aubergine tuille with a spicy crumb. They looked and tasted sensational. I have no idea how such intense flavours could be squeezed from such simple ingredients. They hit some sweet spot in the brain, utter pleasure - rarely experienced, well at least in the vertical plane!