Living in a foreign country is an interesting experience on so many levels. Even though I have lived abroad before in Scotland and England, the experience of living in the Basque Country of northern Spain has been an eye-opening and LIFE-CHANGING experience for me.
This part of the world is very well known for its gastronomic skills. The Basque folks focus a great deal on their food, drink and all of the social aspects that come along with it. As an American my main focus has always been on WORK, therefore this focus on LIFE has been such a new experience for me and it has taken sometime to adjust to!
Writing my most recent book, Feng Shui Tips: Kitchen Renovations, while LIVING in the Basque Country has added depth and flavor to the book largely because of the love of food and drink here. In the book I explore in-depth the KITCHEN as a space. However, I first researched the nature of cooking and how this has evolved over time and only then was the kitchen design style reviewed. A lot of my research was conducted in real life experiences – eating, drinking and talking, as is the typical style of the Basques.
The Basque Country, or otherwise called the Land of the Basque, is the culinary capital of the world right now. The Basques spend an inordinate amount of time cooking, eating and drinking, and then more time talking about cooking, eating and drinking. It is what their lives revolve around. The most basic and fundamental human need – nourishment.
The Basques are considered one of the oldest ethnic groups in Europe. They resisted outside domination until the Middle Ages, even having the Romans grant self-ruling privileges. The Basques are now split between France and Spain. The Spanish Basques fiercely rebelled during Franco’s rule (1939-75) due to his severe repression of their culture. With a variety of geographic boundaries including the Pyrenees, the Bay of Biscayne on the Atlantic Ocean, plus a series of breath-taking valley’s, the Land of the Basques is uniquely situated and is a somewhat isolated region of Europe.
The combination of all of these factors helped contribute to the deeply rooted traditions that are still actively practiced today. These traditions are most notable exhibited in their cuisine and the life style surrounding it. The Basque cuisine is considered one of the world’s gastronomic elite in today’s food-mad and chef-crazed world. The cuisine consists of a very simple approach: good quality, local produce with lovingly raised animal products combined in the most pure forms in a modern and creative, yet unpretentious way. The results are delicious!
Another result of their deeply rooted traditions and mainly autonomous way of life is the Basques have created a very sustainable manner of living. They do not have grand needs, or have large expectations. As a sustainable designer, I appreciate the simplicity of this approach to space, food and life in general. It is demonstrated in the size of their homes (small to mid sized), to the design of their kitchens (simple, basic, functional), to the amount of time they spend outside with having their culture of cafes, bars, and restaurants. (A lot!!!) There is 1 bar or restaurant per every 132 people according to The Local newspaper in 2016. This is a perfect example that indicates the ingrained cultural aspect of being outside and socializing with food and drink.
Recently I heard the term American Kitchens from a Basque describing an open-style kitchen design. Apparently it is believed that Americans have been the ones to make the modern kitchens more open and blending with the living spaces of the household. Despite the American Kitchens being popular in Spain, I believe that given the amount of time the Basques spend outside, even in San Sebastian region which is wet a good portion of the year, the interior design of their kitchens will remain secondary to their focus on their exterior environment.
Time will only tell how the Basques will evolve now that geographically and politically it is opened up though it is my sincere hope that this region retains its deeply rooted traditions in life as a sustainable and beautiful culture and region. From the interior design placing a focus on sustainability and function first, to the love of being outdoors and sharing time while breaking bread together – this place has captured my heart on many levels.
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European City of Culture 2016
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Here is my local Basque favorite dish! A simply yet delicious salad that takes minutes to prepare and makes you smile all day long!
Tomatoes (Locally grown so you can taste them), chopped or diced.
Valencia or sweet white onions; sliced.
Olive Oil (Spanish oil is the best!)
Garlic (3 cloves diced finely)
Sea Salt (mix into the oil with the garlic and spread over the salad!)