Elisa Baena’s first-person account of her visit to Spain and the area that caught most of her attention due to it’s mouthwatering dishes, Zurriola Beach.
When I studied abroad in San Sebastian—a picturesque coastal city in the Basque province of northeast Spain—I knew that I was on the verge of a gastronomic awakening. With a dense constellation of Michelin star restaurants, the world’s most sophisticated gourmands flock to San Sebastian to gorge on explosively flavorful Basque dishes. They are most known for their bar foods known as pintxos, which are slices of toasted Spanish bread crowned with local products like Manchego cheese and Iberian ham or sautéed mushrooms with quail eggs. Although biting through the simplest pintxocan send a radioactive shockwave through your body, some of the most memorable dishes I ate in San Sebastian were not traditionally Basque.
They were from a small strip of unconventional beachside eateries on Zurriola beach: one of the city’s three beaches that was a five-minute walk from my apartment.
My mom often accuses me of “comiendo con los ojos:” a Cuban coinage that translates to “eating with your eyes.” In Zurriola beach, only those with godlike powers of appetite suppression can fight the ferocious need to feast like an American glutton on fresh churros with scorching chocolate, pitaya smoothie bowls topped with coconut shavings and honey, gooey artisanal brownies, and smoked salmon on crunchy sourdough toast. Unlike San Sebastian’s Parte Vieja that is densely packed with traditionally Basque pintxobars, Zurriola beach (also known as the surfer’s beach) is a quirky lagoon of cafes, bakeries, and bars that cater to the young beachgoers of Playa Zurriola. The youthful spirit of this surfers’ niche is reflected in the multiplicity of ocean-front eateries on Calle Zurriola as its food culture is experimental, diverse, and energetic. Circles of young women can be found scarfing down acai bowls with wooden spoons in one hand and an open Instagram app in the other (because did you really eat an acai bowl if you did not post it to your Instagram story?). Interspersed between foodie tourists are local families picnicking near the shore on striped blankets. These families are typically comprised of giggly toddlers whose young parents still care about their tan, and the simplicity of their beach picnics is heartwarming. It’s impossible not to smile while witnessing a young girl’s eyes sparkle as her little fingers grab a “zumo natural” or “natural juice” from her mother’s hands. Even if you have just ingested a tangy serving of pad thai from the inexpensive Asian food joint just two blocks away, watching a sandy haired boy devour a white bread sandwich will make your stomach howl.
Although Zurriola’s rhythmic waves and small hills of coral sand attract the spirited youth of San Sebastian in large numbers, this is the joined oasis of budding families, elderly couples, adolescent lovers, professionals during siesta, picnicking friends, and solitary souls. Bottling the crisp sea air of Playa Zurriola is impossible, but enjoying a bowl of citrusy ceviche from the Peruvian restaurant across the street captures the shockwave that moves through your body as the shore’s snow-white foam combs through your toes.
words & photos_elisa baena