There’s a pile of canned seafood on my kitchen counter that’s about half a meter high. It’s my lifeline to another place. It’s my connection to another time.
This tower of delights includes some of the finest delicacies the northern coast of Spain has to offer: anchovies, hand filleted and salted; plump mussels in escabeche; razor clams gently grilled over coals and canned in olive oil; the “venvesca”, or tuna belly, harvested from the best fish; cockles nestled in a salty brine.
I had the presence of mind to stuff them in my suitcase when my family left the Basque Country after a year of Spanish life. These boxes arrived in Italy, they arrived in Singapore and finally they returned home to Australia.
They contain food but they also contain memories. They carry with them that amazing lunch we had, with that tomato and tuna salad, at Trinkete Borda in the hills above Irun; that hilarious night eating anchovies – a mix of pickled and cured – on toast at Bar Desy in San Sebastian; the evenings we spent eating mussels and drinking vermouth in our little apartment at Gros; the road trip we took to eat the most perfect grilled seafood at Asador Etxebarri in Axpe.
We live in Australia now, and will for a while. But we can bring Spain home. That’s the beauty of traveling for food: the experiences you enjoyed most abroad can be recreated, the highlights can be relived.
You just need the right ingredients.
So we have a plan, to execute in a few days. A Basque feast, a classic lunch like we haven’t enjoyed since we finished our stay in Spain.
Canned seafood will be the star. We’ll start with anchovies on buttered toast, and maybe cockles poked with toothpicks and drizzled with a hot sauce. We’re going to move on to one of those tomato salads with bits of oily venezsca. We’re going to get some salt cod and make a bacalao omelet. We’ll grill huge bone-in rib eye steaks, the “txuletas” that the Basques love; we will pair them with hearty red wines from La Rioja. And then we’ll sit down and toast to a good meal with a glass of patxaran, the classic Basque digestive made with anise and sloe berries that also arrived home in our heavy suitcases.
The tower of tin cans in the kitchen will be exhausted, the lifeline slightly lessened. But it is a price we are willing to pay. For this connection with Spain, for this reminder of our experience – it fills your wandering heart to the brim.