At the back of Calella’s Market House, there’s a fantastic bar called El Nou Bar del Mercat: La Tasca de la Vasca. The bar is run by Ana Biurrun, from Donostia (San Sebastián) in País Vasco (the Basque Country), a region famous for it’s cuisine, Michelin starred restaurants and pintxos.
Pintxos are like tapas (which originated in Andalucia and are said to have been small snacks on dry bread to keep the flies out of a glass of wine or sherry), but coming from the foodie capital of Spain, they tend to be far more elaborate. Pintxo comes from the verb pinchar, to pierce – most pintxos come with a toothpick piercing the topping to hold it on to the slice of bread underneath. Bar staff often count the empty toothpicks in order to calculate the bill. Pintxos and tapas alike, are not really supposed to constitute a meal – originally they were just intended to be a snack or appetiser with a drink. However, when small dishes are this good, it’s hard to resist having more than one.
I’ve spent time in San Sebastián and the pintxos in every bar are out of this world. I dropped a small fortune on bar hopping in order to try (nearly) all of them. That said, I’m sure you can imagine how excited I was to learn of a small Basque bar in Calella, doing a special pintxo deal on Saturday lunchtimes. I was not disappointed – one look at the counter and I knew I was in for a treat.
La Tasca de la Vasca sits in the middle rear of the market, with one side next to the vegetable stalls (above) and the other side (top picture) facing the back door. The bar was busy, I probably could have found a table, but as I ogled the pintxos, a stool became vacant at the bar, so I grabbed it quickly, in order to watch and chat to the staff.
I ordered Basque sidra – cider is very popular in North West Spain. It is traditionally poured from above the head (as Jordi demonstrates above) to aerate the drink and enhance the flavour. This is done for every single glass!
To go with my first glass of sidra I had a fantastic pintxo of chopped jamón and allioli with a little piece of jamón skewered on top (left). This was salty, creamy and garlicky, all in one. While I scoffed that down, Jordi warmed up the morcilla (center) sitting on a slice of red pimento – roasted red pepper, with the burnt outer skin removed, which gives it a sweet smokey flavour. Far right is a spicy chistorra sausage pintxo, which was also heated up for me.
Hungry for more, I ordered a tigre and a couple of croquetas (below and to the right). Tigres are steamed mussels, which have been chopped up, mixed with a béchamel like sauce, breadcrumbs, white wine, onions, tomato sauce, etc. The mixture is returned to the shell and the whole thing is deep fried, breaded side down for a couple of minutes, until golden brown.
Above is the deep fried tigre (left) and the delicious croquetas, squid ink (rear) and mushroom front.
Temptation had me ordering more sidra and a bola de patata con txampis al txakoli – a purée potato ball with mushrooms and txakoli wine.
Txakoli is a dry, slightly fizzy white wine, produced mostly (but not exclusively) in the Basque country. It’s drunk young, up to one year after bottling and is poured from a height (for aeration) like sidra.
The bola de patata is deep fried and served with a little Mary Rose like sauce on top – it’s crispy on the outside and light and fluffy inside.
One more sidra and Anna brought out cangrejo pintxos – unbelievably delicious crab mayonnaise with a large pierced prawn on top. This finished me off, but what a great way to go!
I had to pass on the Basque Idiazabal raw milk sheep’s cheese
and a beautiful looking Greek moussaka – I wasn’t expecting to see that!
You will be unsurprised to see me finish my lunch with a carajillo de cognac – it really does pick you up after a good feed.
This has not been my only visit to La Tasca de la Vasca – I have been suitably impressed each time, especially as the pintxos change each Saturday and the staff are lovely. All the above, including 4 glasses of sidra cost €14.
La Tasca de la Vasca is open Tuesday to Friday 07.00 – 15.00 and 06.00 – 16.00 on Saturdays.