De Atlas Etnográfico de Vasconia
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Marine life


Traditionally, very little shellfish has been eaten, even though a difference should be made, obviously, between locations on the coast and inland. It should therefore be noted that there has been a gradient regarding how frequently seafood has been eaten, as the closer we get to the cost, the more it features in the dishes.

The smallest amounts of seafood were eaten in the inland areas of Álava and Navarra. It was not common in most places in Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa, despite their closeness to the sea.

The most affordable molluscs, such as chirlas (small clams) and mojojón (as mussels are locally known), were more frequently eaten, at least in those coastal provinces.

A few decades ago, sea crustaceans were progressively introduced, but they were mainly used for special occasions. Ever since then, this type of shellfish is mostly eaten at Christmas and at wedding receptions. They do feature, but less so, at other events such as local festivities, christenings, birthday parties, etc. In some instances, such as weddings, they are eaten outside the home at a restaurant.

There are two species that are most commonly enjoyed on those occasions, prawns and king prawns. Norway lobster and lobsters are less popular. Except for lobsters, none of them were part of the traditional cuisine in the towns and villages where they were usually caught and shellfish was eaten.

Those products are now even bought from fishing towns, either from fishmongers or street vendors. They can be bought fresh or frozen.

In any event, eating shellfish, or at least certain types, is the reserve of people with a certain economic standing or to celebrate an event or party.


We will now turn to the fish that are commonly used in our cuisine. There is a cursory look at the most usual ways of preparing each of them as that is discussed in greater detail in the chapter on preparing and seasoning the dishes-

Most frequently eaten species: anchovy, tuna or tunny, cod, pout, John Dory, blue whiting, hake, sardine, horse mackerel and Atlantic pomfret.

Species eaten less frequently: mackerel, bream, common Pandora, blackbelly rockfish, red scorpionfish, conger eel, gilthead, rainbow wrasse, sole, sea bass, annular seabream, flathead grey mullet, monkfish and red mullet.

Fresh water life

River fish

Even though human activities have depleted the life in the rivers, the opposite has sometimes happened.

The practice of eating fish has been more deeply rooted in some places than in others. In Viana (N), fish from the River Ebro and Las Cañas reservoir has always been highly prized and regularly features in the local dishes. On the other hand, very little river fish was eaten in Eugui (N) at the turn of the century. The local residents did not go to catch fish even though the river was nearby and angling was the realm of outsiders. Eating river fish was not excessively widespread in other locations and was restricted to families living close to a river.

Nowadays, the closed seasons and fishing bans mean that this type of fishing is a very controlled activity.

River fish have been caught using different types of nets: stow net; sleeve net; tresmallo (San Román de San Millán-A) or trammel (Apodaca-A); with a net and a long rope known as esparbuena (Elosua-Bergara-G); with pots, erretelak (Zerain-G), etc.

Other fishing techniques have included using hooks, amuekin, with bare hands and drying the beds of the rivers where they live.

Even though river fish can be cooked using different methods, frying has always been the most widespread and common way.

The most frequently caught fish are the so-called bermejuelas (Achondrostoma arcasii). This name is used for a species of small fish which have been seriously reduced in number and is therefore less frequently caught than in the past.

What continue to be caught from time to time are eels and more frequently trout, even though they are non-native varieties that have been introduced.

In general, the river fish eaten today are bought from the fishmonger’s and usually come from fish factories. Trout is the most commonly bought. It is more usual to eat fish from the sea.


Frogs, igelak (Valcarlos-N), zapielak (Izurdiaga-N) have been and continue to be caught for culinary purposes in some locations: Getxo (B), Moreda, Salvatierra-Agurain (A), Allo, Valcarlos, Arráyoz, Artajona, Izal, Izurdiaga and San Martín de Unx (N). They are no longer eaten in some of these locations as the places where they were usually caught have disappeared.

In Fadura (Getxo-B), there were large colonies of frogs and were caught using a rod with bits of red cloth. In Arráyoz (N), they were caught using hooks with worms, but no rod, and also by hand. This happened at night (Valcarlos, Arráyoz-N).