PAMPLONA, Spain (Reuters) - “Love,” replied Montxo Intxusta, when asked what he had made a paella with to fortify friends during the annual running of the bulls at Spain’s San Fermin festival.
Cooking for the love of it is exactly why Intxusta and friends have clubbed together to form one of several culinary societies in Pamplona, home to the week-long death-defying festivities, which inspired Nobel Prize-winning novelist Ernest Hemingway to pen “The Sun Also Rises”.
The “Gure Leku” (Our Place in the Basque language) society seats up to 80 in an ancient underground vault and has all the facilities of a restaurant, but is open to members and guests only. It also employs no staff, because members do all the work.
In addition to love, Intxusta made the paella in a metre-wide pan with duck confit and short-grain “bomba” rice grown in Calasparra, a Spanish town famed for its quality produce.
“It’s like when you are with a lover, you have to treat the creature with tenderness,” he said, explaining an approach to food which has won him prizes, such as for the best traditional “ajoarriero” cod dish in the northern Navarra region.
Other creatures were on the menu, including a spider crab, with “txangurro” sauce served in the hollowed-out shell to accompany the succulent meat in the foot-long legs.
Also to hand were ordinary crabs, bacon slices as garnish, and an avocado and prawn salad, all washed down with Navarra red wine and sparkling white “cava”, and accompanied by singing Basque folk songs or bawdy renditions of traditional “jota” lyrics.
The supper finished at 3 a.m., leaving 11 diners well-fed just two hours before they would have to take up vantage points to watch the daily ritual of revellers running in white garb ahead of bulls making the way through Pamplona’s narrow, twisting streets into the bullring.
Gorings and tramplings are common in the dash across Pamplona lasting two and a half minutes, and local media have tallied 15 dead since 1922. San Fermin finishes on Thursday.
Other dining societies such as “Upategia” put on hearty brunches just after the bull run, whose centrepiece is bull’s tail. Meat from bulls is in plentiful supply during San Fermin week, because six of them weighing half a tonne, or more, are killed in the bullring every afternoon.
“Upategia” opens its doors to the public just once a year on the first day of the festival, to give away “pintxos” or snack-sized pieces of meat skewered to slices of bread, common to Navarra and the neighbouring Basque Country.
This year they offered hundreds of revellers lamb’s liver and 40 kg (88 lb) of “txistorra”, a type of thin, spicy sausage, as well as cava and buckets of sangria. Members also sliced 80 loaves of bread.
“The aim is life, living well, getting together, quality of life and friends,” said founding member Pedro Tejeda, who had been up since dawn helping to prepare food.