Top 7 Must-Try Typical Foods in San Sebastian

San Sebastian is a city synonymous with top quality food and has even been called the world’s best city for foodies. It boasts nine Michelin Star restaurants and 16 stars (as of 2017), a thriving pintxos bar scene, and beautiful local markets filled with fresh seafood, local meats, and seasonal vegetables—not to mention the excellent local wines and ciders!

First-time visitors to San Sebastian can easily become overwhelmed with choices—this is a small city, but one a food lover could spend months enjoying! If it’s your first time visiting San Sebastian we recommend focusing less on where to eat, and more on what to eat. This city is known for some very special dishes, here are our picks for can’t-miss typical foods in San Sebastian.

1. Anchovies and the Gilda Pintxo

The nearby Cantabrian sea is home to some of the world’s best anchovies and the surrounding areas know exactly what to do with them. The most exclusive (and expensive) go to the canneries, which have mastered the art of preserving and canning these tiny fish. The end result of the best brands is a melt-in-your-mouth, slightly salty anchovy—one of the best things you’ll try, we promise!

Anchovy pintxo on a San Sebastian pintxos tour-- typical foods in San Sebastian.
When anchovies look this good, how can you resist?

And for a change, don’t miss the pickled anchovies (boquerones en vinagre), which aren’t salty in the least but rather doused in local vinegar, garlic, and olive oil. One of the best ways to enjoy an anchovy in San Sebastian is to taste one of the city’s signature pintxos, called the “Gilda.” Consisting of green olives, spicy local pickled peppers, and a plump anchovy, it’s one of the most delicious bites, especially when paired with a glass of local vermouth or cider.

Gilda pintxo on a San Sebastian food tour-- typical foods in San Sebastian.
The delicious Gilda pintxo.

Taste it: Discover one of San Sebastian’s most authentic and historic anchovy bars on our San Sebastian pintxos tour.

2. Fresh Foie gras

The Basques love their foie gras, whether in paté form or freshly grilled. We recommend that if you try this decadent bite while visiting, you opt for the fresh version you’ll find in many of the city’s excellent pintxos bars. Fresh foie gras is best well seared and with a dusting of sea salt on top. It pairs well with jams and marmalades, ideally something with a zing of acidity to balance out the richness. We highly recommend the famous foie gras pintxo served with apple at the traditional Bar Haizea in the old town.

Foie gras in San Sebastian-- typical foods in San Sebastian.
The delicious foie gras at Bar Haizea

3. Salt Cod

Basque fishermen were among the first to reach the new world as they fished off of the coast of Canada as early as the 15th century. What were they fishing for so far from home? Codfish (bacalao)—which quickly became a staple of the Spanish diet and a trading commodity throughout the entire world. Credited by some with inventing salt cod (the method of salting and drying the fish, allowing it to easily be reconstituted with fresh water), Basque cuisine has countless salt cod dishes. Some of the must-try ones are: salt cod brandade, pil-pil style (this is a special technique of moving the serving dish while adding olive oil—if done correctly it results in a delicious emulsion sauce of the cod’s natural juices, garlic, and olive oil), cod fritters (bunuelos de bacalao) or cod omelets (tortilla de bacalao—popular first course at the cider houses).

Salt cod omelet in San Sebastian-- typical foods in San Sebastian.
Delicious salt cod omelet.
food tours in San Sebastian-- typical foods in San Sebastian.
Juicy salt cod with roasted peppers, an “appetizer” at the Basque cider house!

4. Txuleta

Aged grass fed beef is something special, yet not what first comes to mind when many people think of San Sebastian. Basque Country is one of the best places in Spain to enjoy a great steak, and San Sebastian has many restaurants that do justice to these prime cuts of meat. If you’re there in cider house season (January to April) don’t miss a traditional sagardotegi (Basque Cider house), where the txuleta is the main course (after appetizers and plenty of local cider!).

Try it: You’ll taste one of the best bites of local beef on our Ultimate Pintxos & Wine Tour in San Sebastian’s old town.

Txuleta steak in San Sebastian-- typical foods in San Sebastian.
Grilled our txuletas!
Basque steak, beef in San Sebastian
Delicious local beef.

5. Kokotxas de Merluza

If you are constantly looking to try new things when traveling, don’t miss tasting kokotxas, or fish cheeks (also called fish throats, and actually a gland– but delicious, we promise!). While many chefs throw out this part of the fish, in the Basque Country they are much revered. Hake cheeks (kokotxas de merluza) are among the best, usually served pil-pil style.

Kokotxas in San Sebastian
Delicious kokotxas

6. Whole roasted hake, sole, or turbot

When in San Sebastian do as the locals do, and make sure to have at least one leisurely lunch at a good fish restaurant. You’ll want to order a whole fish, generally intended for two or more people, along with other raciones (shared plates) from the menu. Some of the most delicious fish to order are merluza (hake), lenguado (sole) and rodaballo (turbot).

San Sebastian pintxos tour
Incredible sole in San Sebastian

7. Idiazabal cheese

One of Spain’s most distinct cheeses, this delicious sheep’s milk cheese is a must-try in San Sebastian. Historically, this cheese was kept in the dwellings of the local farmers to cure, and would smoke slowly as a result of the family fire. Though produced differently these days, Idiazabal is still smokey and delicious. You can taste it on its own, or find it served in creative pintxos (like risotto with Idiazabal sauce) and desserts (think creamy Idiazabal cheesecake).

Basque cheese on a food tour
Smokey Idiazabal cheese with quince jam and walnuts.

These seven typical foods in San Sebastian are just a start—but if you can enjoy a good version of each you’ll be well on your way to becoming a San Sebastian food expert! What’s your favorite food from San Sebastian?

If you are heading to San Sebastian and would like to taste a little bit of everything over the course of a few hours, join our San Sebastian Pintxos and Wine Tour—this tour visits six different locations and tastes some of the city’s most typical foods, pintxos, and beverages. You’ll also learn lots about the city’s fascinating history and Basque culture. Join us!

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