Basque People and Cuisine
I’m not sure how many people are aware of the Basque traditions that have carried over into the United States. Basque culture originated in northcentral Spain and southwestern France. This includes three provinces in France and four provinces in Spain. This is a region with a very specific topography and climate which includes timing of precipitation, amount of sunshine, average wind speeds and directions, as well as number of days above freezing and weather extremes. Basque people started coming to the United States in the 1880s and they settled in the northwest part of the United States, which had many environmental similarities with the region that they came from.
The US population of Basque descendants is not large, amounting to somewhere in the 60,000 to 70,000 range as of the last census. The most populous state is California with 20,868 people, followed by Idaho with 6,637 offspring and then Nevada with 6,096 descendants (mostly in the northern part of the state). Winnemucca, Nevada is the city with the largest percentage of Basque people in the United States, amounting to 4.2% of the city’s population.
Basque country cuisine includes many meats—especially lamb and ham—and many fish, especially cod. Basque cuisine is also very vegetable and fruit oriented due to the area’s rich soil. This is especially true for tomatoes and peppers. The cuisine is influenced by both French and Spanish cuisine that is available in the area around Basque country. Basque cuisine is greatly influenced by the many new settlers in the area, especially people that were expelled from Spain and Portugal during the Inquisitions, as well as their own travel and exploration experiences.
Basque dining is often done in a family style setting where platters of food are put in the center of the table and people help themselves to the food. Cider, pork and cherries are also very common in Basque dining. Basque cuisine has changed over the years: In the 1970s and 80s the nouveau cuisine movement helped lighten up certain Basque dishes. The cuisine was also a very strong influence for Chef Ferran Adria of elBulli fame.
One of the evolutions of common foods in the Basque region is the introduction of potatoes. Potatoes, now very popular in regional cuisine, was at first not generally accepted. The potato was first brought to Europe in the 16th century by the English and it came in through Ireland. It was not a well respected or utilized vegetable in most of Europe. This changed as Europeans learned that the potato is easier to cultivate than other staple crops. It did not become popular in Basque land until a few centuries later. It became a very popular vegetable in the cuisine. The fact that it is a root vegetable and had great storage capacity helped popularize the vegetable. It also grows well in the environment, which is similar to the environment in the Andes where potatoes were first cultivated.
Although the European Basque lands are very mountainous, there are some very fertile soil areas within the narrow valleys of the region. This land was very fertile and these lands were mostly administered by local Basque people. The land was very workable for crops and livestock and was sought after by many potential invaders. Due to the mountainous region, the Basque people were able to fight off most of the potential invaders but lost control of their land every so often before getting it back. Many people wanted to allow their livestock to graze on the rich slopes, but this was usually controlled by the Basque Administration.
There are many tapas and Spanish restaurants in Las Vegas and Nevada, but they do not truly represent Basque food and service. Many of the restaurants that serve Basque food began as rooming houses for the newly-immigrated Basque people from the Pyrenees Mountains. True Basque restaurants are found in many northern Nevada cities such as Gardnerville, Winnemucca, Reno and Elko. One of the most talked about Basque restaurants in Nevada is in Reno, and it is called Louis Basque Corner.