Basque Gastronomic Societies

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

Basque gastronomic societies or txokos, are part of a larger Basque tradition of communal cooking and eating. Today there are over 2,000 txokos around Euskadi (the Spanish Basque Country). The epicentre is Donostia (San Sebastian) where the first homely clubs sprang up in the mid- and late 19th century. Members could quaff local cider from the barrel, share a simple dish or two after work, and sing, another favourite Basque male activity. Their origin, perhaps, lay in a need to get round the restricted opening hours of the cider houses. Women have never been allowed into the kitchen nor, usually, in the clubs, except for guest visits (the women have never really challenged this). Another unspoken rule is that politics, religion, and other tricky areas of conversation are avoided at the table. The gastronomic society cooks, or tripazais, come from every social class and occupation and, since the 1970s, their cooking has risen to a very high standard. Kitchens are now fitted with professional ovens. The style is largely traditional, though originality is prized. ‘In Guipizcoa’s gastronomic societies many cooks invent new stews’, comments one tripazai, quoted in José Castillo’s book, Recetas de 200 cocineros de sociedadas vascas (1991). ‘They do more for the world than those who discover a new star.’ The recipes in this book are an excellent sampling: there are long chapters for salt cod, fresh fish from the Bay of Biscay, and game, very few puddings, and, in the meat section, a recipe for fried young donkey. The exchange of dishes in the txokos has lent new character to the region’s restaurant repertoire by bringing in recipes from rural areas and, especially, from the fishing ports and boats.