When arriving in San Sebastián, all I could think about were the beautiful beaches and the culture we get to be a part of each & every day for 3 weeks. From the excitement our professor showed us, to the positive comments I have heard from students that already went, I was nothing but thrilled and could not stop counting down the days until July 28th. Yes, I was super excited about the beaches, but I also had some nerve in me, because I grew up eating typical American food, from pasta with plain sauce, to hamburgers and chicken fingers. I never really enjoyed “extravagant” meals that had more than four ingredients in them. To me, they just look intimidating.
I have always classified myself as a picky eater, but the biggest advice past groups have given me was to try everything you are offered, even if it looks disgusting, and never say no. When I heard this advice, I thought I would not take it, and continue to eat the simplest things I could get on the menu. On a positive note, Julian made us go out of our comfort zone and took us all on a pinxo tour throughout the city of San Sebastián.
What better way to immerse yourself in the Basque culture then to travel the streets of San Sebastián, stopping at over six restaurants, with five of your classmates and your professor while enjoying a diverse and delicious variation of pintxos. Pintxos, small bite-size culinary jewels are not only an order of food, but they give a new purpose for life and meaning in this incredible town.
Our first stop of the tour was a perfect and delicious leeway into the rest, since our first dish was tortilla with potatoes. Tortilla is one of the most famous dishes in this city but is also one of the simplest. They cook the eggs super runny, which we’re not allowed to make because of the FDA in America, and mix it with potatoes, looking like a potato fried pizza. Surprisingly, this is the one dinner dish I HAVE heard of before coming to Spain, since my family has enjoyed it for dinner several times before! After this simple dish, the next two hours were only complicated and diverse tastes.
Our next stop consisted of food I have never heard of and tastes I thought I would never acquire. We enjoyed beef cheek wrapped in red pepper, ox tail, and the most diverse of them all, foie gras. Foie Gras is goose liver. When hearing this before I ate it, I was extremely intimidated and nearly refused to try it, but then remembered “never say no”. And what do you know after that? I actually enjoyed this weird food and wanted more. I never thought I would try the cheek of an animal or a liver of a bird walking around the streets, but I did it, and I could not be happier that I did!
Amongst these two hours of taste testing, not only did we experiment with new foods, but we got the chance to really learn about the culture of Spain and the Basque Country, and the reasons behind the love for food in this amazing city. Unlike America, food is not just a meal that is three times a day at the same time and with the same people in the same places. In San Sebastian, food is how people express themselves, how everyone in the city gets to know each other while creating relationships with servers and bartenders, meeting up with friends on an extended lunch break, how people step out of their comfort zones and create new challenges for themselves that they would not be able to experience anywhere else.
One part of the culture that amazed me was that a mess on the floor of a restaurant meant that you are complimenting their food and their restaurant. At first it was weird to me that you could not give a restaurant better reviews than throwing your leftover napkins on the floor, but after experiencing it, I am now amazed. I think it is such a unique culture they have here, and that is one part about Spain I will not forget, because it is different than any other place I have ever been. Another thing that surprised me was their honor system with payment at restaurants/bars. This system proves how sincere and respectful this city is, because the workers trust the diners to pay what they ate without keeping a tab, unlike America. I thought this was so cool and unique because in restaurants in America, we would never trust the diners to pay by the honor system. That is just not how Americans behave because we would take complete advantage of the system. This is why it amazes me that a culture respects each other enough and shows how nice and welcoming this city and country is!
Even though we have only been here for less than a week, I will forever be grateful that I took the leap of faith to come to a different country with ten other students who I never met before, because this city has brought us so close together and gives the feeling that we have known each other for a while! We have been lead by the amazing Julian, our own Basque tour guide and teacher. Not only does this place already feel like a second home, but being able to immerse in the culture of the Spanish food makes me grateful for all these experiences and makes me thankful.