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Organising food intake

The wealth of ethnographic information on food accumulated since the early decades of our century reveals that a large number of professions, including shepherds, fishermen, woodcutters, coalmen, etc., only had two meals a day in the second half of the 19th century.

At that time, some farmers and the majority of people living in urban centres, working in trade, industry, services and other professions, already had three main meals a day that in general coincided with what we call breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Distribution of the meals

The two main meals were traditionally known as gosaria and bazkaria. Until the 1940s-1950s, only shepherds, fishermen and other professions who worked far from home continued to follow that pattern, as we will see below.

Nearly the whole population has shifted from eating these two basic meals to three main meals: breakfast, the main meal and dinner. Two others were then adde, which were the afternoon snack and a mid-morning snack to complement breakfast eaten just after waking up.

Composition of each meal

The best prepared and heartiest meal is at midday, followed by dinner and the morning intake of food, which does not take place as a single act, but rather at different times throughout the morning, with the times and composition differing according to the time of the year, the work carried out and the region.

Children, practically year round, and adults, during the long summer afternoons, satisfy their hunger with an afternoon snacks that, in some places and situations in winter, is the same as dinner, with high tea as it is known ending the food eaten during the day.

Lunch. Bazkaria

The midday meal is usually known as bazkaria.

Vegetables and animal proteins have been the base of the main meal of the day.

Stew, lapikokoa, generally made using beans, potatoes and pork products, such as bacon, chorizo sausage or ribs, has been the basis of the meals in Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, Alava and other regions of the country. The way of serving it varied and it was either a single dish with all the ingredients or divided into its components: the stock, the beans and finishing with the aforementioned pork products.

Afternoon snack

Children regularly have this snack throughout the year and it is, in general a piece of bread with chocolate, cheese, chorizo, ham or similar, biscuits and fruit. Men involved in heavy work also have an afternoon snack of a sandwich or food similar to that of the hamaiketakoa. Many women have a white coffee, and sometimes hot chocolate, with biscuits or pastries.

Dinner. Afaria

The last meal is after the end of the day's work. Traditionally, the family gathered together for the meal. However, in recent years, as the result of the social changes that have happened and due to the influence of television, the members eat separately in many households, organising the times, menu and even the place where they have dinner to the television schedule.

The menu varies according to the times of the year, the regions and the customs of each family. It ranges from very frugal dinners such as an omelette and milk to those consisting of two courses and dessert that are always lighter than the midday meals.

Meals outside the home: shepherds, fishermen and others

Bermeo fishermen (B), up to a few decades ago, got up at five in the morning when at sea, had a coffee and started working. Around 10.00 a.m., depending on the fishing, they had the first meal that was called armuzue. They would then continue to work until around four or five in the afternoon, always depending on the fishing tasks, when they would stop for the second meal, marmitxe. Nowadays, nearly all the boats follow the shore timetables, in other words, they have breakfast between half-past seven and eight, have lunch at around one p.m. and have dinner at about 7.00 p.m.

Sunday meals

On Sundays, people have a lighter breakfast-brunch and they have a later and better midday lunch. They sometimes skip the afternoon snack and dinner or high tea is similar to the one on weekdays.

The midday meal has traditionally consisted of, in most of the country, soup, chickpeas, the meat used to flavour and in the cooking of the former, with the meat used to add its flavour and juices to those dishes, in a tomato sauce; along with the odd dish such as salt cod, chicken or rabbit and homemade desserts (rice pudding, custard, egg custard, etc.) or fruit. In addition to the wine, many men also had coffee, a glass of spirit and cigar to round off such a splendid meal.

Seating arrangements

The ritual of seating everyone at the table was very similar throughout the Basque Country: the father sat at the head of the table, the mother near to the fire to look after and serve the meal and the rest of the family around the table, or failing that, around the stewpot or dish in which the food was served.

Traditionally, meals were eaten in the kitchen, near to the fire and the dining-room was only used, when there was one, for large gatherings when there were many guests at home.

From the communal dish to the individual plate

Around forty or fifty years ago, the majority of people ate from a communal dish, placed in the middle of the table and which everyone could reach. Everyone drank from the same water jug or from a single glass in the case of wine.

Nowadays, everyone has their own dish, even bowls and flat plates for the first and second course respectively and small plates for the dessert. Only the salad and some specific dishes, such as one-pot meals in frying pans, chops, some pastry desserts, etc., are eaten directly from the dish in which they are served and which are placed in the middle of the table.


In the past, the people used their fingers to take the food from the dish placed in the middle of the table and put it directly in their mouths. The oldest people living in Sara (Ip) had been told by their parents that people even ate stew with their hands ahurka (from agur, cupped hand).

The spoon was the first piece of cutlery to appear. At the start of the century, boxwood spoons were used throughout the country, though they were sometimes made out of beech, as both types of wood are very fine and do not fade. Those spoons were deep and thin.