Fete de Bixentxo, Ciboure
The Basque fishing port of Ciboure is only minutes from the French border with Spain, on the bay of Biscay. Because it has no sandy beaches, it has remained an active fishing port and a sleepy neighbor to big sister Saint-Jean-de-Luz, the Belle Époque beach resort across the harbor.
Each year during January, however, Ciboure fetes its patron saint, Saint Vincent, or Bixintxo in Euskara, the basque tongue. Over the course of two weeks, the town is alive with a slew of events and activities: The mayor of the town offers a aperitif and pintxo reception to all guests and visitors: The streets are filled with carnival rides, arcade games and food booths; there are concerts, dances, bals musicals; traditional basque music and dancing is performed in the streets; the Mayor of Ciboure offers an aperitif and pintxo hour free for all attendees; there is a communal dinner on the last Sunday of the month.And on the day we were there, Ciboure hosted the World Championship of the Boudin d’Iperralde or Basque blood sausage. Quite fortunate timing, as we were not aware that any of this was going on until we arrived.
The competition is divided into categories for amateurs and professionals and the judging is taken very seriously. All entries are examined cold, then grilled to order and tasted again hot.
Finally, after the winners have been selected, and a blessing sung over them in Euskara, the boudins are cut into thick slices, put on pieces of baguette and distributed to the crowd.
Of course, all the proceedings were overseen by a group of traditional basque musicians.
For our part, the blood sausage, with a glass of basque cider (or rosé wine in the case of the happy snacker above), was just an appetizer, before walking up the hill behind the fronton (pelota court) toward one of my favorite restaurants, Chez Mattin, which was actually the reason for our unexpectedly fortuitous visit to Ciboure in the first place. Fortunately, we had made a reservation, as the restaurant was packed. Not long after we arrived, the same group of musicians pictured above arrived, with instruments in hand, to occupy two long tables in the back room.
The food was great as always; a special highlight was a dish of “pibales” or baby eels. They arrived at our table simply sauteed with garlic, olive oil, parsley and a squeeze of lemon. The serving we had must have literally contained hundreds of eels, each less than an inch long. I had a moment of conscience thinking about the toll on the local eel population represented by just those being eaten in this room, but oh well, it is the season. When in Rome…