Wednesday, May 25, 2016

SPANISH AND FRENCH: Basque Country - Part 2 Intro (Spanish Basque) Basque VIDEOS and The Txoko or Gastronomic Society Culture


The Basque Country is made up of seven provinces, three of which are in southwestern France and four in northwestern Spain.  Since the French Basque area is smaller (300,000 Basques) than the Spanish Basque area (2,000,000 Basques), the French Basques are more into the French culture rather than touting the Basque culture.   

The French Basque Country villages seem stuck in time. Agrarian customs are alive and well, and more people speak Euskara (in Basque, the name of the language is officially Euskara).  In French, the language is normally called Basque, though in recent times Euskara has become  a more common name. 

Spanish has a greater variety of names for the language such as el vasco, la lengua vasca, or el euskera than they do along the cosmopolitan coast. At the end of the 18th century, the Basque language had waned, stigmatized as the preserve of peasants. Today, it’s not without controversy. In November, thousands of people protested the closing of a primary school in Ciboure where the language was taught. While the number of Basque speakers is on the rise in Spain — Basque became the co-official language in the region after Franco’s death — it’s falling on the French side.

The main languages are French, Spanish and Basque, but since the 1980s, as a consequence of its considerable economic prosperity, the Basque Country has received an increasing number of immigrants, mostly from Eastern Europe, North Africa, Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa (middle and southern Africa), South Asia, and China, settling mostly in the major urban areas. Nevertheless, foreign immigrant population is surprisingly lower in the Basque country than in Madrid and Catalonia, despite having similar GDP per capita and significantly lower levels of unemployment.  This immigration of cultures and foreign languages will, of course, change the face of the Basque country as all immigration changes countries

The French and Spanish Basques have nothing in common. The Spanish Basque men are big-boned, broad-shouldered, stout eaters, hearty drinkers and lusty singers. It is the men who have kept the Spanish Basque cooking alive and famous.  In the towns of San Sebastian, Bilbao, etc. there are gastronomic societies with their own choirs, charities that they support charities but the main goal is to feature Basque cuisine, culture and create new recipes. San Sebastian is widely considered one of the world’s premier culinary destinations. But as regular tourists clog the Old Town, eating and drinking their way through its narrow streets, another world lies hidden in plain sight. 

The Txoko (gastronomic society) is a private club (until recently women weren’t allowed) and all members have their own keys and meet often in the evening during the week between 7-10 for food and drinks.  The men eat and cook enormous banquets especially on Saturdays.  The first Txoko (pronounced cho-ko) was founded in 1870 so these societies have become an integral part of Spanish Basque society.  There are many of Txokos with members numbering from 40 to 200.  (There are txokos in non-Basque countries also.) Each locale has a dining room with long wooden tables seating 12-20, a kitchen with numerous burners and ovens, larders, a wine cellar, a cold storage room, plates, glasses, linens and all the other things needed in a restaurant. 
The atmosphere is informal.  Each user makes out his own bill and leaves the money in the kitty (always extra money left over) for what he uses and turns in the money (staples like wine, cider, coffee, liqueurs are kept in stock).  

What is known as “Basque Cuisine” of north Spain didn’t become known as that until the 19th century.

The Spanish Basques love food and drink and do so with so much gusto. They are extremely particular about the seasons and the origins of foods.  They show restraint in seasoning.   The most common sauces are red or green (red with tomatoes; green with parsley and also asparagus tips and/or peas. Because the hills are lush and grassy the cows graze and produce creamy milk but unlike the other side of the Pyrenees the Spanish Basques use cream only in desserts. 


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