Cooking in (Basque) style

Most readers will have heard about the peñas gastronómicas (eating clubs) of the Basque country, veritable institutions dating back half a century or more.

These temples of local gastronomy are a feature of the region, and the all-male membership usually gets together weekly for a meal prepared by one or more of the group. It is not a condition of membership that you have to be able to cook, but if you volunteer, then you have do everything, including buying the ingredients in the market.

Most clubs have long waiting lists for membership.

The last time I was invited to one such club in Bilbao, we were 30+ for a lunch consisting of ‘bacalao al pil’ and ‘chuletón de buey’.

The cost of the food and wine is always divided equally, and the annual membership fee covers rental and utilities.

The last thing I expected was to be invited to a peña gastronómica in Marbella. There are many Basques living on the Coast, and other food enthusiasts from San Sebastián, Bilbao, Burgos, Pamplona, even Cantabria, tend to hang out together. This was the sort of mix we had at lunch the other day. The locals could be counted on the fingers of one hand, and the guiris on one finger. It could have been in the Basque country.

Roberto, long-time Coast resident from Burgos, taught himself to cook when he retired, and as chef for the day prepared a delicious stew of ‘callos a la andaluza’ (Andalusian-style tripe), followed by ‘merluza en salsa verde’ (fresh hake in green sauce).

He had been up since seven to get the best from the Marbella market, and he finally managed to take a rest at around three, when we all sat down at a long table groaning under the weight of food and bottles of wine.

An all-male group, as tradition demands, with weekly get-togethers, there was no shortage of volunteers to lend a hand with the waiting at table and the washing up. If you told people there is a Basque-style eating club in Marbella, most would be hard put to give it credit.