Can you help maestro Massimo Bottura?

Yes, You can. There’s “No More Excuses” people…

I’ve talked before here about the fantastic work this chef is doing to feed the homeless and the poor in newly setup community kitchens based around using waste food.

© Ecocucina &

There’s now a film available which you can stream through Netflix showing him working to open one of his refettorios, this one in Milan. It shows the people he and his team and the community are helping. Stefi, a rough sleeper, and one of the people profiled and helped says:

“I only have two things. My life. And my freedom. My skin is my home. The stars are my ceiling. My blanket are my dreams”

That brought tears to my eyes.

Highly recommended. Watch it. Then vow to help locally. Wherever you are. In the UK there’s Crisis. Give regularly. Or help by donating to food banks. That this is needed in the 21st Century is, as I’ve ranted before, a national disgrace. But we can change this state of affairs if we try. With love and care for our fellow humans.


Down (but not dirty) in Bilbo:

Tired maybe, sweaty sure, foot-sore, some under-utilised muscles complaining about unexpected use, pale Northern European skin sun reddened, yes, all those. But not dirty.

Unlike the surface of this wonderfully expressive old face*; that of a man whose whole life was spent outdoors, sun and wind leathered skin, ingrained dirt — like the miners over here — hard to scrub away. And the hipsters of Hoxton would kill for that hat and pipe….

*[NOTE: the face of the guy in the photo; not my reflected face. Obvs.]

Brother perhaps to this pig herder, photographed back in the 1930s, you think?

Returning home after a hard day in the hills and fields to the (extended) family meal

Although poor as they were, they’d be unlikely to to able to afford to slaughter (or buy) one of these lovelies

Or shop at La Casa de la Carne

There’s generally not as much fat on the pigs today — even in Spain — as the bulk (see what I did there?) of the supply is still of the Cassius (“lean and healthy”) type, very unlike this pair of lovelies from the last century

I think it was this latter one who was the cause of this Basque farmer’s discomfiture at his gaming table

Much better to have a quiet picnic on the hills above Bilbo as did these three 18th C. ladies, the picture drawn to show the riverbank & a plan of the old city in the period before its seemingly relentless rise as an industrial powerhouse had really got started.

But the importance attached to food and eating has never left this area; they build murals in homage to eating and drinking well…

…whilst shops like Charcutería Alemana La Moderna, who I mentioned in the earlier piece continue to supply great meat (inc. to The Basquery) continue to supply great charcuterie and meats to Bilboans today…

…along with other stalls at the magnificent La Ribera market, shaped like an ocean-going ship, land locked, stranded on the edge of the old town, right on the banks of the river Nervión.

Were we lucky enough to be living and working in Bilbo, there’d be no desire to shop for food anywhere else. Full of butchers, fishmongers, greengrocers and an amazing array of pintxos bars; the latter somewhere to eat and drink at when the sheer volume of natural bounty available to buy threatens to overwhelm you or your shopping bags, groaning with purchases, starting to disintegrate, seeming to weigh more than the core of a red dwarf star…

Backstage controlled chaos at one of these bars…

Then there’s some items at the butchers that you would be a little hard pressed to find in England…

Some others that would delight the hearts of Messrs. Henderson and Turner

Smoked and cured delights almost too many to count…

Perfect porcine produce. Trotters, ears. The whole nine yards.

Bu this place isn’t just meat. Here’s a huge range of dried peppers and pulses to drool over.

Acres of shellfish. Beautifully, almost lovingly presented. Fresh, smelling of the sea (of course) and the faint tang of their juices…

Fearsome fish faces fighting for favour. The flavour is a given of course.

Each stall taking prideful care, individually show-casing how much they love the produce they’re selling…

Think you’ll run out of Bacalao anytime soon? Not here you won’t…

Bilbo is a busy city, dirty and run-down still in places reflecting the changes that came in the 1980s as heavy industry was hollowed out by global free trade and the insanity of the neo-liberal policies but bright and buzzy and fun and noisy as well.

And passionate. Fiercely protective of their language, their culture, their food and drink. But still quite calm in many places; we were surprised at the comparative lack of cars. The subway, the trams and the buses are uniformly excellent (OK, the buses could do with some logistical improvements; even native Spanish seemed uniformly bewildered at the intricacies of the timetables and where to actually catch the damn bus they were hoping for but..) and we used them all the time.

There’s more to follow on Bildo and Donostia in some (sometimes) less food related posts. Be back soon with those; all these food photos have given me a killer appetite which needs urgently to be assuaged.

And finally? Finally. Did you know that China eats fully HALF of the total number of pigs produced worldwide annually. And those pigs in turn consume ½ of the worlds’ animal feed. Yes, that’s right. Read that statistic slowly again. Then start worrying about how we can move to better sustainability and animal welfare and a reduction in global warming with that as a downward driver. Animal agriculture causes 18% of greenhouse gas emissions; and it’s recommended that we choose local meat to minimise carbon footprints — but that’s hard to square when the amount used by China is so vast…

Dining is about friends, not food

I said this yesterday, then everyone, inc. @Francisjmallman, jumps on the band-wagon, saying the very same thing in this interview from The London Evening Standard. 

“I really believe that the only reason to sit down and have delicious food is to have conversations with your friends, family, lovers,” he said. “Food and wine can’t be the most important thing. The only reason is to sit down with friends, is to get food and wine to make you more witty and truthful. The food and wine is not the reason to be there.”

Mallman, a slightly larger than life character, hailing from Argentina, specialises in cooking everything on and over burning wood. I realise that’s something of an understatement, like saying Genghis Khan “specialised in riding horses and fighting a bit” but hey…

He was the subject of some pieces during the Mind Of  A Chef series, with Chef Ed Lee, showing seven different techniques to cook pretty much anything you chose to use:

  1. Parilla – A barbecue set over hot coals.
  2. Chapa – Cooking on a cast iron grill.
  3. Horno de Barro – The wood oven.
  4. Caldero – The calderon, cooking in a cast iron kettle.
  5. Rescoldo – Cooking in ashes, especially vegetables.
  6. Infiernillo – “Little Hell,” cooking in between 2 fires so you have heat from both sides and finally
  7. Asador – The “Iron Cross,” cooking things standings & overlooking a fire.

Watch this short clip to see him work some magic…

He’s now coming to England and opening a restaurant here later this year. We shall probably have to go…

Philistines storm Bilbo, Donostia & munch on Euskal Txerria

Nope, not the The Hobbit. That’s just being silly. @Val_Littlewood and I agreed during the course of this latest trip to two of the most important cities of the Basque Country that we’re really just not cut out for the excessive formality, the often almost stifling stuffiness, the enforced quietude and the apparent forelock tugging reverence demanded — of the customer — of visits to the very top end (often Michelin) star(-red) restaurants.

© Andrew Cebulka/McCrady’s official site

Almost as bad as the — thanks to Val for coining this one — militant terroir-ists! Instead, we’re at our very happiest when we’re allowed (no, required) to drop our used paper napkins on the floor, where we can excitedly grab another pintxos from the fantastic array on the counter & cram it into our mouths, adding to the pile of tooth-picks stacked on our plates, shout — in our very poor Spanish — at the owners and fellow customers (in a sometimes vain attempt esp. on my part, I freely admit), to communicate effectively and generally have a bloody great time.

I know that this confession means I’m barred for life from the Gourmet Club. I’m unrepentant. If we’re not enjoying the whole experience — not just the food — then there’s no point going and paying their eye-wateringly high prices to spend hours that could have been better utilised elsewhere. Sorry. Put it down to our inability to grasp or identify those subtle tastes & textures, painstakingly teased out of the meticulously sourced, hyper-local, rare, historically priceless, artisanal ingredients that they’re providing for our delectation.

And yet still, despite this (completely co-incidentally timed) article wherein Sean Brock passionately defends the tasting menu — from which the above shot came — you’ll just have to call us Philistines, as it’s all just too difficult for us. Or so it would seem.

Anyway, if you haven’t yet totally recoiled in disgust from this confession of my abject failure but instead, are still sticking with me here, as a loyal reader, then “read on (not “lay on”, I know!) MacDuff” for this and subsequent pieces on where we DID go and what we enjoyed.

The Basquery was one such delight. We stumbled inside the dim entrance at the end of a long day of pounding the streets after a frenzy of exploration. Setup by an Aitor Elizegi, local chef and businessman, it’s a combined brewery — run by the team of Mikel Muñoz and Pablo Mellado (known as the “Drunken Bros” — I’m not sure if that is intended as a compliment or just as a comment on their usual state) — a bakery (both types of fermented goods being produced in-house) and…

…a deli/grocery area, all situated slap-bang, right in the centre of Bilbao and next door to his restaurant, Bascook, which we had no idea even existed until after we’d left, but will now be visiting the next time we’re in town.

On this, the first of two times we came here, we started with their taster flight of beers. The “Hitman” IPA is fantastic, using the Citra hop; if you get a chance, grab a larger glass or two of that. The “Bagazo” stout is a rich, chocolate deep taste and, especially in winter, something to warm the cockles of your heart. The “Mile O”, subtle, light, quite sweet whilst the “Eskombro” reminds me of the great brown ales that you used to get in England 50 years ago.

It’s all housed over two floors (taking up the ground and basement areas) of a fabulous old corner space, with great swathes of the old brickwork and building stone and ironwork — from its time as a harbour side warehouse — kept delightfully intact. I know this look, as used everywhere from Hoxton to Hamburg to Hoboken, can be more than a little clichéd now, but here in Bilbao, that most industrial of cities, with a long, long tradition of iron making and ship building, it makes perfect sense and reflects their proud Socialist past.

© Esti of Bilbao Mola

I discovered — but, unusually for me, didn’t attempt to broach — this bottle, housed in a whitewashed alcove in los baños which (not so strangely when you think about it I suppose, same country and all) looks remarkably like the inside of our old house in Casarabonela:

The bread machine used in their bakery is the junior version of this, one we’d earlier seen in the old town

The place was almost 100% full but we managed to squeeze onto seats at a small, wall-side high table; grabbing the menu which was full of promise….

…and it delivered. In the way that I talked about above, that was fun, sometimes frenzied, not stuffy.

Arrayed on the table in front of us in the shot below was, at the top, a dish of the Navarra Leeks with Pico de Gallo. In the middle, 4 gorgeous pieces of Euska Txerria charcuterie, chorizo, cold-cut loin, thinly sliced sausage and cured ham and on the bottom plate is chunks of their home made bread, still hot from the oven and slathered in tomatoes.

And a nice touch is their own bottle of water. Bilbao tap water. Simple, cold. No charge. Just there on the table.

Andrés the fluent English speaking, front of house star, told us that their charcuterie and meats are supplied by the team at Ein Prosit, a German restaurant and beer keller, only – literally – 5 minutes walk away from Basquery. It’s fantastic stuff. Look at the way the fat is melting on the plate at room temperature?

So, that’s it, the first set of picture and food porn from this trip. No Michelin stars here. Just enthusiasts using fresh local ingredients to produce simple, well cooked dishes served in a friendly and fun setting. Our idea of a good time.

And finally? This great shop-front, La feria del jamon, that we saw on the way back to the hotel that night. Sums up what I’ve been saying here, don’t you think? Ham. On tap! Anytime of the day or night!

¡Mmmmmmmm. Que rico!

Which pretty much sums up the Basque trip for @Val_Littlewood and I…