An Authentic Basque Christmas Menu: Typical Festive Foods from San Sebastian

For Basques, food always comes first, and the winter holidays are no exception. Typical Christmas foods in San Sebastian are just as delicious as you can imagine. 

Spanish cuisine, famous for its amazing flavors, takes on even higher levels of deliciousness at Christmastime (if that’s even possible!). But not all regions in Spain celebrate the winter holidays with same dishes—every city and region has its own traditions and specialties.

If you’re headed to the Basque Country, we’ve gathered up a list of typical foods that you’ll find on most families’ Christmas menus in San Sebastian. 

A guide to the most typical Basque Christmas foods

Luxurious starters

Christmas is one of the most special celebrations of the year, so Basques want to make it very special. The most important thing is to make the meal different from a normal Sunday menu—which, by the way, can be very impressive too!

That’s why we kick the dinner off with luxurious starters such as oysters or caviar to guarantee a festive mood. If not a fan, no worries! In San Sebastian, we can always include some pintxos—the local finger food—on the menu. 

Oysters on a plate
Many Basque families start their holiday meals with oysters.

Seafood, seafood and more seafood

Seafood is an emblematic part of Basque cuisine, and it plays an important role on the Christmas menu, too. 

Baby eels, sea bream, hake, cod fish—you name it! It’s probably impossible to find a Basque Christmas table without a selection of amazingly fresh seafood and fish, and there’s no need to wonder why: the nearby Cantabrian Sea is a true treasure. 

The most traditional fish dishes on Christmas are bacalao al pil pil—cod with olive oil, garlic and guindilla peppers—or merluza a la koskera: hake with clams and local vegetables, like green or white asparagus and leek.

cod with olive oil, garlic and guindilla peppers
Bacalao al pil pil is a Basque Christmas classic. Photo credit: Mover el Bigote

A meat lover’s Christmas treat: lamb

Lamb is very popular in the Basque Country, and it’s a common option––or addition––alongside the fish dishes on the Christmas menu. There are various ways of preparing this yummy dish, but grilled lamb is a classic. 

The mouthwatering meat is typically paired with seasonal vegetables, but those in need of something more filling can add the region’s famous Tolosa beans to the menu! 

Tolosa beans make up one of our favorite cold-weather meals in San Sebastian.
A hearty bowlful of Basque Tolosa beans always hits the spot.

Traditional Christmas desserts

In San Sebastian, like everywhere in Spain, Christmas is not Christmas without sweets. And there has to be a good variety of them! Where it’s very typical to buy a nice selection of the traditional Christmas cookies, polvorones, from a supermarket or local bakery, it’s also nice to prepare something sweet at home.

A very typical option, and probably one of the most traditional Basque Christmas foods, is intxaursaltsa, a sweet walnut cream. Legend says that intxaursaltsa was traditionally prepared with cod stock, but luckily these days we tend to use whole milk instead!

And then there is pastel vasco, the famous Basque cake that has its origins in the French Basque Country and will melt the heart of any pie lover. 

Pastel vasco traditionally has two filling options: sweet cherries or dreamy pastry cream. Which option would you choose to add to your Christmas table? 

A slice of traditional Basque cake
Pastel vasco filled with pastry cream. Photo credit: Kent Wang

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