The fever for cooking and football invades Bilbao: this is how they savor the run-up to the Copa del Rey

It is said that in the Basque Country everything important happens around the table.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
03 April 2024 Wednesday 10:25
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The fever for cooking and football invades Bilbao: this is how they savor the run-up to the Copa del Rey

It is said that in the Basque Country everything important happens around the table. In Bilbao, in addition to food, there is another religion: Athletic. So there is only one possible way to prepare the countdown for another Cup Final. The city's pastry shops and restaurants have been rolling out their red-and-white snacks for days now: cakes, sandwiches, and hamburgers dedicated to the lions and a question that, although in a low voice, from time to time it is heard on the street: what if we don't win?

Those who have spent these days of Holy Week in Bilbao have surely heard of the famous barge. This boat that Athletic historically uses to celebrate its titles on the estuary is already being prepared in case next Saturday the 6th the Copa del Rey goes to Bilbao. While in Mallorca - the rival in the final - they observe with curiosity this Bilbao enthusiasm before the match, in the capital of Bizkaia the topic of the moment is whether or not the fan boats that will accompany the barge have to pay the fees that, for As seen, Athletic wants to collect.

Despite the upcoming regional elections or the recent Aberri Eguna, everything seems secondary to Saturday's game. The Copa del Rey is the title that Athletic has won the most times but too many years have passed since the last one. And many recent finals lost, so there is desire. And, apparently, little fear of going too far with the preparations, as anyone who walks through its streets will be able to see.

The windows of pastry shops are a good test. In Arrese, one of the best-known in the city, they already have cakes and carolinas in Athletic's colors. One of the most typical cakes in Bilbao changes the dark chocolate and yellow Yemenis that decorate the mountain of cooked meringue for red stripes, the edible shield and a small chocolate txapela.

In the Bizkarra bakery in Pozas, one of the liveliest streets when there is a game in San Mamés, carolinas and some Athletic cupcakes have been heating up the atmosphere for days. With the legendary butter buns or rice cake it seems that no one dares, but in Zurekin Obrador they have created some red and white palm trees for the occasion.

These are just a few examples because, as the Bilbao Centro association explains to us, a total of twelve artisan bakeries in the city have signed up for the “Gozatu Athletic” initiative (enjoy Athletic) with cakes, tarts and sweets dedicated to the team and that They will be available throughout these days. The result of the match will say whether they will continue to be on sale on Sunday to celebrate the victory or whether they will have to be removed from the shop windows.

Those who are more salty than sweet also have a choice. Although a few days ago we did not find any pintxo dedicated to this Athletic event in the bars of Bilbao, at the Canales de Portugalete butcher shop they have already planned the menu to enjoy the final at home: a hamburger created for the occasion.

Specializing in chops and hamburgers, as Rubén Canales explains to us, the red and white pack was created in collaboration with the Bitxibil bakery in Bilbao, which for the occasion has created a red and white bread. Inside, the “txuleton” burger, which includes 25% of this cut of meat and the rest of matured beef, Monterey Jack cheese, acorn veil, caramelized onion and homemade truffle mayonnaise. Everything you need to prepare two hamburgers at home costs just under 17 euros.

Fernando Canales, one of the most renowned chefs in Bilbao, has also signed up to this Athletic fever through Bokat, a place that specializes in gourmet sandwiches and of which he is a partner. This sandwich of chicken, cheese and topped with red and white sauce based on honey aioli and piquillo mayonnaise will be available not only for the final, but every day that the game has started, they explain from this business. “It's not going to happen, but if Athletic loses at least you can console yourself with this sandwich,” Canales jokes.

And it is impossible not to wonder, in the face of so much enthusiasm, what happens if the final score is not what was expected in Bilbao. In Mallorca it is clear that the final is experienced with a little more tranquility and perhaps less optimism. In the local press there are many references to the match, also to the rival's preparations for victory, but we have not been able to locate even a themed ensaimada so that those who travel to Seville can take it there.

A shame, considering that in the good years of RCD Mallorca this team was baptized as “the mechanical ensaimada”. From the island, David Valdés, an expert searcher and taster of the Mallorcan variat, confirms this impression. There is talk of the match, but far from the madness unleashed in Bilbao and no trace, at least for now, of anything edible dedicated to the local team or the cup final.

We return to Bilbao, in search of a restaurant that has included a very Athletic dish in its menu. On the always lively Ledesma Street, the Athletic sandwich from Taberna Dos is a house classic that is sure to be a big hit these days. Not far away is Bascook, one of Aitor Elizegi's restaurants, former president of Athletic.

Yes, a chef was for years the head of the team, confirming that communion between Athletic and the kitchen. According to what they tell us, references to the city and Athletic are common here, but if they have to choose one to enjoy Saturday's game, they tell us about a recent addition to the menu: the golden scallop that is accompanied by carabinero, an aioli of grilled garlic, a red and white cauliflower that is made with a base of Bizkaina sauce and marinated torreznos.

A complete menu with which many already dream of celebrating Athletic's goals. Which, by the way, are popularly known as cod. Here, as we said, football is also eaten.