Saturday, 25 November 2017
Bar Azkena revisited.
The last time we had lunch in Bar Azkena back in early October so enraptured was I by the pintxos that I posted some rambling piece about civilisation, people power and food culture. This time I promise to be a bit less effusive. It was interesting returning to San Sebastian after a few weeks, whereas in October it still felt summery and because the film festival was in full swing, the city was vibrant and exuded 'joie de vivre', or at least the Basque equivalent of it. Now, with Black Friday offers in the shops and fake Christmas trees on the streets, winter was knocking on the door. The city still oozed style, but it seemed more restrained.
Even so, big winter waves rolled-in ensuring the weekend surfers were out in force off Zurriola hondartza and on San Sebastian's more sheltered La Concha beach a few stalwart souls were brave enough to go for a swim. Sand drawing man was still displaying his skills on the beach beside the promenade; beyond,once again the broad expanse was scrawled with political messages that resisted Google translate.
The last time we visit the Brexta market it had been mid-week and it was almost empty. Now, on a Saturday it was crowded, all the specialist food stalls were open and a flower and fresh vegetable market had popped up outside on the pavement.
We installed ourselves in Bar Azkena, the food on offer was as exceptional as before. We had a couple of pintxos which we knew were delicious - the aubergine concoction in particular, but we also sampled a bacala based dish - as Gill commented, "there's a whole lot more going on there than just fish."
A Japanese gentleman was sitting next to us. He spoke no Spanish and little English and was struggling a little with using a knife and fork. Nevertheless he was very brave and determined to sample the range of the dishes on offer. Using Google translate we managed to explain what some of the ingredients were. I can imagine that pintxos would appeal to the Japanese palate and sensibility, the miniature dishes and complex design are reminiscent of sushi.
He seemed very enthusiastic about what he had sampled. We discovered that he was from Tokyo and travelling alone. He seemed very happy that we had once visited Tokyo, and when we explained that we had stayed in Shinjuku, he became positively delighted. Apparently he lived thereabouts.
We finished lunch with a couple of coffees then explored the market. The cake stall was full of tempting goodies. We bought four small almond pastries to take back for later. There is so much we don't understand about Spanish food, we wanted to buy some cured ham - but which one? At the fish stall some of the monsters for sale looked capable of eating you, rather than the other way around.
After a final walk along the esplanade it was time to catch the bus back to Igueldo. I have no doubt that we will return to San Sebastian, it is one of our favourite places. A happy spot in a beautiful place, somewhere that seems determined to celebrate life's simply pleasures. Though it has style and panache, Donastia feels grounded, welcoming and inclusive. We love it.