Pamplona – Iruña

One of the wonders of living in Spain and Europe is that all cities are easily accessible, either by car or train. That’s exactly what I did, took advantage of both the routes (and nice weather) to explore some of Spain’s best gastronomic cities.

My first stop was Pamplona. Pamplona (Iruña in Basque) is a medium-size city located in the North of Spain, and just 1 hour away from San Sebastián. This city is most known for the San Fermin festival where the running of the bulls (encierro) is one of the main attractions.

The festal is deeply rooted in history. It is held annually from 12:00, July 6, when the opening of the fiesta is marked by setting off the pyrotechnic chupinazo, to midnight 14 July, with the singing of the Pobre de Mí. It is known locally as Sanfermines and is held in honor of Saint Fermin, the co-patron of Navarre. Its events were central to the plot of The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway, which brought it to the general attention of English-speaking people. It has become probably the most internationally renowned fiesta in Spain. Unfortunately, I cam 2 months 2 late but there are still shops and streets that hold signs of the festival.

Pamplona is also one of the main stages of el Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James). The Way of St. James is the pilgrimage route to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the apostle Saint James are buried.

My purpose wasn’t to walk all the way to Santiago de Compostela, but to sample the food and the culture in a short weekend trip. What many people don’t know is that Pamplona is an excellent town for sampling the pintxos typical from the north of Spain. The Historic centre of the town with its narrow streets for pedestrians only is where the wider variety of pintxos is offered. Plaza del Castillo (or Castle Square), Estafeta and San Nicolás are full of small bars where you can find these small delicacies at a very reasonable price.

Navarra, the region of which Pamplona is capital, has long been Basque in nature and enjoys a privileged geographical situation. The Navarre cuisine is similar to the Basque cuisine and influenced by the traditional French cooking. It is a harmonious blend of traditional and “nouvelle cuisine” and often it is a great excuse just to visit other parts of the region. The varied landscape features everything from fertile valleys and mountainous terrain to freshwater rivers and proximity to the sea, all of which play heavily into the local gastronomy. Based on fresh vegetables, fish and lean meats, Basque food is known for being healthy and natural, for being simple yet creative and for incorporating raw materials of top-notch quality.

The nearby rivers and Bay of Biscay provide Pamplona with all sorts of saltwater and freshwater fish and seafood, such as cod, tuna, hake and salmon; the mountainous landscapes provide the city with sheep’s cheeses, game and Spain’s traditional cold-cured meats; and the surrounding valleys yield locally-grown fruits and vegetables, such as peaches, pears, asparagus, beans, artichokes, mushrooms and the famous piquillo red peppers. It’s secret is the simplicity and quality of the ingredients: fresh vegetables, lean and tasty meats, fish and the wide variety of cheeses and desserts for ending a good meal.

Local bakery

Game, freshwater fish, traditional cold cured meats and a wide variety of mushrooms contribute to the Navarrese varied cuisine, which includes the best features of the different races that have crossed this region. There’s also lettuce hearts and artichokes from Tudela, red peppers, tender white asparagus, local veal, salmon from the River Bidasoa and cheese from the Roncal region are only some of the essential elements in the Pamplona cuisine, which join and sum up the best of the Navarre cooking, where wines –under their “appellation d’origine”- are always present. Red, light red, rosé and white wines enjoy top quality; among them, red wines stand out for their fruitiness, aroma and smoothness. Among liquors, the after-dinner drink has to be Pacharán, which was originally a remedy for stomachache.

I didn’t have much time to eat but I did take in some fabulous new/traditional restaurants that I highly recommend.

First off is Bodega Sarria which specializes in cured Iberico hams. This lengthy bar is covered with plates of pintxos, and there are cuts of cured meats in the corner ready to be carved for hungry punters. Pictures of bull fights hang on the walls, and ham legs from the ceiling.

Of course I was here!

Plate of Iberico ham and chorizo, 12 euros.

2 minutes by foot, you will hit Meson Pirineo.

This dive is the best place in town for hearty appetites. The portions of Basque specialties are huge. After stuffing you, the friendly waiters even offer you a regional liqueur on the house. Many typical specialties of the area are offered, including game in season, especially quail. The most filling dish is a hearty bean stew that a Basque grandmother might have prepared for a family on a winter’s day. Duck confit is another regularly featured dish, and beef dishes are usually tender and filled with flavor. The fixed price menu is 12 euros.

Final stop at Casa Otano. Founded in 1913 and run by the same family since 1936, this bar in the old town offers an extensive selection of pintxos, as well as Navarran cuisine served in terracotta dishes.

Manitas y Foie (Pig’s feet with foie gras)…Holy Cow! Melted in your mouth.

Milohas de Setas y Gambas (Millefeuille of Shrimp and Mushrooms)

Duck Confit

Short time there but an awesome time nevertheless. A must visit, but don’t worry, you’ll see me there for San Fermin!

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