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A foodie’s paradise

San Sabastian has shot from a seaside resort to a global foodie destination. From liquorice-perfumed shellfish on a three-star table to anchovies and crisps in a tapas bar, San Sebastian has become a foodie’s paradise in a few years of time.

india Updated: Nov 13, 2010 02:41 IST

From liquorice-perfumed shellfish on a three-star table to anchovies and crisps in a tapas bar, San Sebastian has become a foodie’s paradise in a few years of time.



Of the seven Spanish tables to have notched up the coveted top rank in the Michelin food bible, three are nestled within a few miles of each other in this northern Spanish city that counts more stars per inhabitant than Paris. "People here are crazy about food, it’s in our blood. Everything takes place around a table, it’s our language," said chef Martin Berasategui. "People here love to eat, it’s fair to say they have a special culinary sensitivity," agreed Elena Arzak, who works in tandem with her father Juan Mari in driving what has become known as new Basque cuisine.



FOODA longstanding friend of the avant-gardist Catalan chef Ferran Adria, her 68-year-old father regularly sends out inventive new recipes from a workshop on the first floor of his eponymous restaurant in San Sebastian.



"It’s not a laboratory as such, but it is a research kitchen that enables us to offer around 40 new dishes each year," he said."We freeze-dry hake to reduce it to a powder, and sprinkle it on a fillet of hake cooked ‘a la plancha’," he said by way of example. Other recent tricks include liquorice used to enhance the flavour of shellfish, coconut to boost carrot, or peanuts added to tuna.



Gaining popularity

Tourists travel from around the world to sample the wares of the Arzak father-and-daughter duo and their Basque peers — but locals also make up a fair slice of the custom. For both him and fellow chef Pedro Subijana, who mans the three-star table Akelarre, the Basque food revolution can be traced back to the mid-1970s and a meeting in Madrid with French pioneers of "nouvelle cuisine".

Creative overdose
Known for using hi-tech methods to “deconstruct” and reassemble ingredients, Adria’s restaurant near Barcelona was crowned the world’s best for four years — only losing the title this year to rising star Noma in Copenhagen.

Berasategui, who learned the ropes in his parent’s local tavern, before training under great French chefs, believes “the past 15 years have been a historic moment for San Sebastian’s cuisine.”

But that is no reason to get big-headed. “We try to work a signature cuisine that is contemporary but still keeps in touch with our roots,” says Arzak.