Editor’s Note: Once again, Janelle Norman joins us from the bustling city of Madrid to share with us her first experience eating the traditional Basque dish called, gulas.
I first tried gulas at a Basque friend’s house. As he showed me how to cook these imitation baby eels, he reminisced back to his childhood (25 years ago) when “angulas”, the real ones, were more plentiful in the river inlets of the Bay of Biscay. His family would buy them live and store them in the refrigerator. He remembers some times the little critters would escape and his mother would find the toothpick sized critters all over the walls of the fridge. Since then, the world population of eels has dropped drastically and the coveted “angulas” can go for around 100 Euros a plate. In Spain, the memory of the angulas is strong and their imitations are quite popular as a side dish, especially at Christmastime. Gulas are also a common topping on “pintxos” (tapas in the Basque Country) and in salads.
The best place to have pintxos of course is in the Basque Country, Bilbao, San Sebatian, etc. Last weekend when in Bilbao we stopped in a little bar for a light lunch, (Just between the Atxuri tram/train station and the Hotel Sirimiri.) They had some amazing pintxos, we ate about 7 of them and the price was at least half of what you would pay in Madrid. More centrally located and famous are the bars in and around the Plaza Nueva, for more info see my post on Tapas Talk.
But if you are in Madrid, an easy place to find and to have some Basque-style pintxos with gulas, and a glass of Txakoli, is the appropriately named Taberna Txakoli on the street Cava Baja at number 42 (just down from the Plaza Mayor). They include gulas in some of the pintxos, one is a mixture of scrambled egg with the gulas sticking out in all directions. The best way to order at the Taberna Txacoli, if you don’t know the names, is made easy with the glass display cases filled to overflowing with a wide variety of these Basque style tapas.
Now on to the wine. Txakoli (pronounced Cha-coal-EE, with the accent at the end) is a tart, acidic, young white wine from the Basque Country. It’s one of my favorite white wines, because I love acidic flavors. I also enjoy the sound of the name, and that it is a regional product, made special as it’s not so easily found outside the Basque Country. Even in Madrid, you’re lucky if you’ll find more than one producer in a Basque bar or a wine shop. Txakoli is also fabulous because it’s fun! Ideally, it is poured from a distance of about 2 feet above the glass (like sidra) to break up the gas in the wine and release the volatile aromas. Although it’s not a sparkling wine, it has an effervescent quality in the mouth. At many bars, nowadays, they have a little plastic top placed on the bottle to slow the stream for easy, perfect pouring. It’s a very drinkable wine and pairs perfectly with the traditional seafood and cheese Basque tapas. You can find some tasting notes here at Catavino, and Vinography.