Basque Cuisine

The Basque Country, an autonomous community located in the north of Spain and stretching into southwestern France, is rich in history, with its roots going back to the ancient Basque people who inhabited the area thousands of years ago. This unique community has its own distinct language, Euskara, believed to be one of the oldest in Europe, and a cultural heritage that has been well-preserved over the centuries, despite political and social upheavals. Among the most celebrated aspects of Basque culture is its cuisine, which has gained international acclaim and significantly contributes to the global gastronomic landscape.

Basque cuisine reflects the geographical bounty of the region, with its coastal location offering an abundance of seafood, while the verdant inland pastures provide quality meats and cheeses. The Basques have a deeply ingrained respect for quality ingredients and an exceptional culinary tradition that stems from a combination of coastal, farming, and mountain cultures. Pintxos, the Basque equivalent of tapas, are particularly popular, with each small dish meticulously prepared and beautifully presented. Traditional dishes include bacalao a la vizcaina (salt cod in a rich red pepper sauce), marmitako (tuna and potato stew), and txuleta (a thick cut, aged beef steak), exemplifying the variety of flavors within the region.

What makes Basque cuisine unique, however, is not just the quality of its ingredients or the variety of its dishes, but also the people's approach to food and cooking. The Basques have a societal institution known as a 'txoko', a gastronomic society where members gather to cook, eat, and socialize. The essence of these societies is collective cooking and shared meals, promoting a deep sense of community and fostering a passion for food that transcends into the everyday lives of the Basque people. Furthermore, the region has more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita than any other in the world, attesting to the culinary prowess that has been cultivated in the Basque Country. Thus, Basque cuisine is a true embodiment of the region's history, identity, and the artistry of its people.

Pyrenees Cafe

The Pyrenees Cafe opened its doors at its current location in 1935, just near a train station which was the principal mode of transportation in those days. Initially, it served as a hotel, catering to the bustling traffic of travelers and immigrants. Its close proximity to the train station provided a convenient stopover for passengers during their journeys. It has a rich history and has witnessed multiple transformations over the years, playing host to a diverse range of patrons and activities.

One significant aspect of the Pyrenees Cafe's history lies in its evolution from a Basque boarding house to a traditional family-style restaurant. This change mirrored the development of many restaurants in the American West's Basque scene. The boarding houses primarily accommodated single young men who had immigrated from the Basque region of Spain and France. The dining practice in these houses involved serving food on large plates at long tables. Those communal meals morphed into popular family-style restaurants, a tradition still alive at the Pyrenees Cafe today.

Another intriguing part of the Pyrenees Cafe's story is its history as a brothel and a speakeasy. These undertakings show a grittier side to its past, adding layers of intrigue to its story. Its bar has been a consistent feature through the years. During Prohibition, the Cafe's operations escalated, as it began to produce alcohol for its patrons in a vast underground network of horse stall-sized concrete vats. Today, the Pyrenees Cafe proudly holds the title of the oldest running saloon in Kern County.

Bakersfield now boasts the largest collection of Basque restaurants in the United States, with the Pyrenees Cafe being a pillar amongst them. These establishments carry forward the traditions of their ancestors, offering a time-honored Basque food experience to their visitors. Customarily, meals at the Pyrenees Cafe are a multicourse feast, served family style at long trestle tables. Guests typically start with the 'set-up,' a generous spread of bread, soup, beans, salsa, pickled tongue, vegetables, french fries, and spaghetti. The hearty entrees include lamb, chicken, and seafood, or the special entrée of the evening, epitomizing the rich culinary culture of the Basque people.