Recently, a few friends and I took the short trip along the coast of the Bay of Biscay to the small seaside town of Getaria. You may know Getaria for its disproportionate number of famous former residents: Cristobal Balenciaga, one of the world's best fashion designers; Juan Sebastián Elkano, the first man to sail around the world; or maybe for its renowned restaurant of the same name, Elkano.
Well, I'm here to let you know there's another, much more relevant reason to know Getaria. On our Saturday morning excursion, we stopped at Itsas Mendi, a storefront by the port, to do a little food shopping. Not just any food, though: the best fish the Cantabrian has to offer, brought in fresh and processed on site.
There's kokotxa, looking cold and white and ready to devour. It's a local delicacy...a piece of flesh that hangs from the throat of the cod, or bacalao. There's verdel, or mackerel, from Getaria that is processed and packaged in vinegar. The boquerones, a sort of white European anchovy that is larger than normal anchovies, are packed in oil and absolutely delicious.
But the crowning glory, the reason people drive from Donosti (or Madrid! or Barcelona!) to Itsas Mendi, has to be the anchovies.
If you're saying 'I don't really like anchovies,' then I bet you've never had anchovies from Spain. They are a different creature...tasting more like cheese than fish. And if you're saying 'I love anchovies,' then prepare for the richest, most sublime anchovy you have ever tasted.
The anchovies at Itsas Mendi are a bit smaller at first glance, but that has to do with the processing. They insist on getting rid of every trace of bone, so you get none of the fibery feeling that detracts from the pleasure of anchovy consumption. What you do get is an anchovy that melts in your mouth. Like butter.
The anchovies are cleaned ONLY by hand. Beheaded, salted, and arranged and weighed down in barrels for about six months. Then they are desalted, the skin is removed, and they are boned. No machines at any point in the process. Purely artisan. And this year, the anchovy population of the Biscayan Bay has bounced back, so they are back to being locally sourced.
Warning: Consuming these will ruin you for all other anchovies.