Bilbo and the Shire

The Welcoming Committee now gone, I am briefly on my own to once more work out the intricacies of Spanish life–which can be quite intricate–in Bilbo (not a hobbit on Middle Earth but a city in Euskal Herria nowhere as familiar to me as my precious Bar-cel-ona). They left me only essential survival information, i.e., where to eat delicious food in and around town. Since I know who reads my musings and what’s really important to them, here is the complete list:

Comer en Bilbao

Bares pintxos

–    El Globo (c/Diputación, al lado de la Biblioteca)

–    La Viña, al lado de El Globo

–    Sasibil, Berton (c/ Jardines en el Casco Viejo)

–    El Huevo Frito (Calle del Maestro García Rivero, 1)

–    Lekeitio (c/Diputación)


–    Kokken (plaza del Gas)

–    Zapirain  (pescado, caro)

–    Lar (c/ de la Amistad 3) sirve lo que le da la gana, carito pero calidad excelente. No perderse el rape.

–    USB (Indautxu 8-10) chuletón a la piedra bueno

–    Kimtxu (Henao 17) taberna vasco-asiática, con tapas y restaurante

–    Etxebarri (comida a la brasa, excepcional) Calle de San Juan, 1, Atxondo, Vizcaya 946 58 30 42

–    Itxas Gane (pescado fresco y muy bien hecho) en Barrika Carretera General de Algorta hacia Plentzia, 946 77 26 71

–    Casa Rufo (c/Hurtado de Amézaga 5)

–    Restaurante Laga (c/ de la Merced 2, Casco Viejo) viernes noche y sábados puede que tenga ventresca de bonito a la plancha y encebollada (de morir)

Because food is what the Basque Country is all about, I’ll try to cover as much ground as possible (already figured out which places are closed for vacation, since in Spain things are open… when they’re open). The gastronomical future is, however, promising. So far I’ve even agreed to taste hog’s jowls in oyster sauce at Kokken and most definitely did not regret it as I was afraid of. Very proud of myself too as I tried the 5-course mystery menu (13€!) where they choose the dishes, and they only bring out the bones, organs, and fat for select customers that strike them as culinary adventurers (my take-no-prisoners company was definitely a plus). This great review has pictures of other goodies I ate: salmon carpaccio, sirloin with peach sauce, cod fritters with honey (delectable little wonton pasta beef cannellone not shown).

This morning’s first order of business was to procure foodstuffs for home, which was luckily also high tourism as the architecturally striking Mercado de la Ribera (bilingual description/gorgeous photos here) is right around the corner. A special treat, since it was partially closed for renovation the last time I was in Bilbao. The site has been a market since the fourteenth century; by 1870 it consisted entirely of covered stands, and the present building was inaugurated in 1929. The marvelous stained glass and picturesque views of  San Antón Church and the surrounding neighborhood (not to mention some quaint characters)

Image (6)

really make the shopping experience worth getting swindled by the fish lady who knows you’re not from around here.

It was, however, too disappointing to find Lau-Lau, the croquette shop I remembered, closed–these being one of my cherished decadent foods, with which I could eat myself to death. I did later find my way to their other store in the Old Quarter, Lautxo (though I hear the two recently split), and could stock up on THE BEST croquetas I’ve ever had despite what El País may say–so good that after my last trip here I may or may not have smuggled four dozens in my luggage back to NYC. Today, three flavors: chorizo, ham, and roquefort (I won’t be eating them all, guests are coming soon!).

The thing is the market too opens… when it opens. In fact, when General Miguel Primo de Rivera, Spanish Prime Minister/military dictator between 1923 and 1930, decided to tour it upon its inauguration, his visit coincided with odd unexpected closing hours, and it was the presidential schedule (not the market’s) that had to be adjusted. As Mariano José de Larra wrote in his famous 1833 customs sketch, part of the Spanish national character is summarized in the phrase “please come back tomorrow.”

HENCE, for those desperate times when everything is closed and there is dire need for emergency gourmet nourishment, the Welcoming Committee’s top-secret last secret revealed: the ibérico ham vending machine!


It is not entirely true that I was left only with a list of bars and restaurants. A very charming lady I met last night whilst bar-hopping (herself formerly a professor in the U.S.) called me on my cell this morning to let me know (among other helpful tidbits including the location of the eco- & local product- grocery store), that Bilbao men go crazy for women of my type (which I’m hoping means “sultry Caribbean enchantress”), and that there are many doctors (not sure if M or Ph) to choose from. If only I hadn’t sworn off doctors. (I know about my problem with parentheses.)

But before any debauchery (or work, the activity that really needs to take place imminently) can occur, other basics had to be covered. Such as figuring out the clothes washer (mercifully much simpler than most European ones but still takes two hours in the shortest cycle). And negotiating the apparatus-for-hanging-clothes-out-to-dry


without irretrievably dropping the wash down a six-story shaft (needless to say, I now have only one pair of lucky leopard-print undies). This operation takes a double dose of Tramadol if you have any sort of neck injury.

And before any feasting, a little discipline and dietary ground rules (you’re not in London anymore, Dorothy). For tonight’s dinner, a cleansing yet to-die-for homemade lettuce heart and smoked salmon salad with capers and mustard vinaigrette (OK, accompanied by my FIRST SUMMER BOTTLE OF BLANC PESCADOR!!!!), followed by wickedly plump cherries. Moving forward, only two meals a day. Minimum one hour of walking. At least sometimes avoid the outdoor escalators/pay elevator and just climb up the many, many, many steps


that lead, from every direction, to my pretty Solokoetxe street


and my hilltop apartment with a view of my own.


Laster arte! (See you soon!)

About WRF

New York-based Spanish Cultural Studies professor and academic author venturing (nervously) into new forms of writing: travel and food-logue, cultural commentary, pseudophilosophical speculation, opinion, reminiscence, prophecy, examination of conscience.
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4 Responses to Bilbo and the Shire

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