The Basque origin is lost in the mist of history. However, it has become a legend because the Basques have known how to build an extraordinarily rich, creative and unique culture positively impregnated with innumerable influences, creating an idiosyncratic and unique melting pot.
From its language to its gastronomy, Basque culture is as abundant as it is interesting and has helped shape the enormous melting pot of identities that is now modern Spain.
Basque, a language as exotic as it is decisive
The Basque language (euskera) is undoubtedly the great hallmark of the culture’s prominent historical legacy because it is the only language in Western Europe that does not come from the great tree of Indo-European languages. This says much about the interesting aura of mystery that Basque culture possesses.
Currently, euskera is a language spoken by almost a million people. While this seems to be insignificant, it is an overwhelming number for a language considered in danger of extinction. Gipuzkoa is the territory that has the largest number of Basque speakers in Spain and the world.
This is partly because Basque spoken culture is highly participatory and very popular. In the Basque Country, the existing percentage of Basque speakers has increased to 60% of the young population, which looks very promising for the immediate future.
In fact, euskera is very present in both primary schools and university and postgraduate study centres, whether public or private. This guarantees the survival of its most distinctive cultural heritage, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Music, dance and art
In addition to euskera, Basque culture is rich in art, represented mainly in music, dance and song, which have gained great popularity and appeal worldwide.
Traditional Basque music, which was sung a cappella based on old melodies created by Basque poets, still exists today as one of its most important artistic heritages and one of the great tourist attractions.
One of these artistic expressions, bertsolaritza is an authentic phenomenon of cultural adaptation of the Basque heritage that has been practiced for centuries by poets from the fields and rural territories.
It is characterized by sung and improvised verses that have achieved enormous popularity among young people. The so-called “bertsolaris” are young regional stars.
Basque culture is also reflected in literature and painting, with artists of the stature of Julián Tellaeche, José Arrué, Francisco Iturrino, Antonio de Madariaga, Pío Baroja and the immortal Miguel de Unamuno all being great bastions of Basque artistic heritage.
Exquisite Basque cuisine
If there is one Basque cultural bastion that has carved a niche for itself throughout the world, it is the exquisite gastronomy. The unmatched flavour of its stews has captivated locals and strangers, crossing the borders of the Basque Country and Spain itself.
Although the dishes are simple to prepare, Basque cuisine has unrivalled popular roots due, in part, to the enormous amount of ingredients from the sea, as well as its exquisite lean meats, delicious dairy products, such as curd and a great variety of cheeses, and products from the garden, in which beans stand out.
All this amalgamation of flavours has formed an ancient recipe book of great quality and tradition. The Basque Country has a generous offering of restaurants, grills, bars and cider houses for all tastes and budgets.
An example of these traditions when it comes to cooking are the so-called Gastronomic Societies spread throughout the Basque Country and in many other parts of Spain. These are eminently masculine strongholds where authentic culinary art is developed, and they keep Basque culinary roots alive.
Basque gastronomy is full of dishes with great flavour and enormous popularity. Among them are the famous pintxos, small portions served in bars and restaurants where diners can enjoy a variety of stews.
Other exquisite traditional dishes include the delicious pil pil cod, the traditional Bilbao sea bream, the succulent tripe in Biscayan sauce, the squid in its ink, the incomparable hake in green sauce, the porrusalda, the grilled txuleta, the sukalki, the donstiarra-style txangurro, the world-famous marmitako and exquisite sweets such as pantxineta, goxua and intxaursaltsa.
Just as its music has been nourished by important influences, its cuisine has undergone interesting transformations, especially since the 1970s, when a new generation of chefs and kitchen masters began to experiment and innovate.
This innovation and transformation was significantly influenced by France and other regions, from which came what was called the New Basque Cuisine.
The authentic revolutionary gastronomic movement gave rise to prodigious centres of experimentation with new ingredients, cooking methods and preparations, through which aromas and flavours were translated into authentic delicacies. Many of these creators have been awarded several Michelin stars internationally.