What first pops into your mind when you hear San Sebastián, Spain? Is it the beautiful seaside beach or maybe the wonderful restaurant opportunities within this Basque city? These two things after all are what why scores of people flock to visit this region of Spain – I mean just think about a day at the beach followed by an evening of the pintxos (small tapas like food available at almost every bar in San Sebastian) or dining at one of the 16 Michelin Star restaurants. That alone makes me want to go back!
Ah, but have you heard about the gastronomic clubs or societies? In San Sebastian, these gastronomic clubs have been around since the 1800’s and today there are approximately 119 in existence in the city (over 600 in the entire Basque region). These clubs were initially established as a place of refuge for men – a place for them to socialize and cook away from the women at home who were the “boss”. Today, many of the clubs are still men only and it is not uncommon to find clubs with over 100 members.
To visit, you must have an invitation or be brought by a member. Well visit I must – I just had to see what they were all about! In September, I visited San Sebastián and made it a point to book a visit to Los Corcones gastronomic club. This club has a professional chef (all clubs cook together, but not all have a member who is an actual chef) so I knew I was in for a treat.
Together with 3 friends, we met the chef and started our walk-through Mercado de la Bretxa, the 150 year old market that was bursting with sights and smells you can only imagine. Here Bendur, our chef went about choosing items that he would cook during our visit to his club. He shared samples of his favorite ham and other specialties as we shopped.
Then it was just a short walk until we arrived at what looked from the outside like any ordinary stone building – that was until he pointed out the club sign announcing our arrival. The Sociedad Cultural Musical Benefica “Los Corcones”, with its 2-blue fish logo (and yes this club even has a band!).
As he opened the door, I was immediately in love with the quaint set of rooms and old country style kitchen (but with some heavy-duty ovens) and checkerboard tableclothes. I could not wait for the gastronomical experience I was about to have. He put us to work preparing the plate of tapas and pintxos – oh did you think this was a sit and be served sort of visit – heck NO!
Up first was a sampling of Spanish cheese, olives, sausage and of course a sardine or two (enough food really for 20 people). When the sampling began, we sat around a table and talked about his club, the food and the traditions…and somehow the 4 of us polished off a majority of that food. We felt the pride he had for his country, his food and his club. Now this is the way to really experience another countries culture.
Just when we thought we could not eat or drink anymore and the real cooking began! We were served some traditional Basque seafood dishes and yes, I must say, they were tasty! This visit to a private gastronomical club was one of the best foodie experiences I have ever had. We left with a true understanding of the culture by way of not only the food but through the opportunity to dine with the chef. It was a truly amazing experience which I encourage you to try.