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Spain Basques in the Culinary Spotlight

Spain Basques in the Culinary Spotlight

Ingela Ratledge | WeSeed

The Once-Overlooked Country Is Now the World’s Top Food Destination

Italy, move over. France, watch your back. The capital of good eating has officially shifted to Spain, with foodies from all over the world hailing its cuisine as el mejor. In the interest of full disclosure: I haven’t set foot in Basque Country in years—like, since the first number in my age was a “1” and O.J. Simpson was still that nice football player from Naked Gun.

So I’ve been following the revolution with interest, particularly since my memories of meals there involve a looping reel of shrimp and garlic. Clearly, Spain has come a long way: The Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain, a recovering Francophile, recently declared it the only place that gets him excited these days. (Maybe a little more than we needed to know, but point taken.)

Even clog-clad Mario Batali—who made his name singing the praises of the Italian kitchen—has jumped on the bandwagon, presiding over NYC’s packed Spanish restaurant Casa Mono and starring in PBS’s 13-part travelogue Spain…On the Road Again with fellow enthusiast Gwyneth Paltrow.

So why all the hype? For starters, Spain offers a huge assortment of indigenous gourmet ingredients—think tons of fresh seafood on a menu alongside traditionally cured ham—prepared by several wildly innovative chefs. Many sing the praises of keeping food in its simplest, unfussiest form. Or, in the case of national cooking god Ferran Adria—boss-man at the legendary three-star Michelin restaurant El Bulli, which has a reservation policy that makes getting into Harvard look easy—it’s all about embracing fuss entirely, with dishes that require a PhD rather than a cookbook to re-create them. (Frozen powdered polenta or caramel-crusted quail egg? Don’t try this at home!)

Meanwhile, at Mugaritz, in the outskirts of San Sebastian, foie gras is chef Andoni Aduriz’s specialty. (And homeboy doesn’t mess around: Apparently he spent two years visiting a liver research center in Granada to learn how to best do the organ justice.) Happily, when the time comes to sample Spain’s fare for yourself, you’ll find that getting there is relatively reasonable—even in these less-than-appetizing economic times.

Heaven knows we should all plan to skip the sad meal on the plane and arrive with our appetites intact.

Ingela was a staff writer for Us Weekly and Features Director overseeing the travel section of Life & Style. She’s written for Real Simple, SELF, Health and TV Guide, and supplied commentary on shows for E!, MTV2, and various radio outlets throughout the country.