What to Eat in Bilbao: 10 Treats You Should Not Miss
Like many cities in Basque Country in historic northern Spain, Bilbao is known for its exquisite food. While many tourists come here to see the impressive Guggenheim Museum, its gastronomy is also worth traveling for. Try its delicious pintxos, the traditional Basque cuisine perfect for sharing with family and friends, or the fresh seafood served in numerous Bilbao restaurants.
The city is also home to numerous Michelin star restaurants, so you don't have to wonder where or what to eat in Bilbao that's guaranteed to be up to your taste. It's a premier foodie hotspot, along with San Sebastian, a resort town in the mountainous Basque Country about an hour’s drive from the city. For veggie eaters, the vegetarian restaurants in Bilbao are sure to please. Although Spanish cuisine is heavy on meat, vegetarian-friendly eateries and cafés serve excellent food even meat lovers can enjoy.
If you’re craving the best street food in Bilbao, its lively streets are full of bars and delis offering finger food and quality bites. As you tour the city and discover its architecture and history, indulge in the delicious Basque cuisine to complete your adventure. Have you just flown into Bilbao Airport? If you’re worried about your suitcase or even backpacks or large bags, drop them off at luggage storage in Bilbao. It will give you the flexibility to travel and sample the food without dragging your bags around.
Bilbao Food: Pintxos
Tapas are Spain’s traditional small plates and signature snacks served along with wine or beer. But in Bilbao, tapas are out, and local pintxos are in! Also known as Spanish pincho, pintxo is an appetizer that’s a lot similar to tapas but is typically served on top of the bread. This traditional snack is considered one of the most famous creations of the Basque Country that you can find in almost any bar in Bilbao.
The term ‘pincho’ translates to spike, as it’s often served with a toothpick or a skewer. It is Bilbao’s main attraction in terms of food that come in all sizes and shapes. These bite-sized treats are creative, and it’s up to you what you want to add to the mix.
Prepare small pieces of bread and top them with peppers, cheese, ham, Spanish tortilla, and croquetas filled with bechamel sauce. But if you're going to try the classic ones, you’ll need stuffed crab, tortilla, anchovy, guidilla pepper, and olive.
This snack is a must in casual gatherings, making it a socializing component in the area. It’s even regarded as a cornerstone of society and local culture in the Basque Country.
Bilbao Food: Kokotxas
Bilboa is a coastal city, so it’s not surprising to find many of its local dishes centered around seafood or fish, like kokotxas. It’s a unique Basque cuisine that can’t be found elsewhere in Spain. The key ingredient is the hake fish, especially the lower part of the fish’s chin called kokotxa in the region. This part of the hake fish used to be discarded but has now become a tasty culinary delicacy,
This Basque fish stew is often served with a special sauce made from garlic, white wine, olive oil, and flour for thickening. If you want to experience a more traditional way of eating kokotxas, you can have it served with salsa verde sauce, also known as green sauce. Serve it with some crusty bread on the side to mop up the savory sauce.
Some of the best restaurants in Bilbao serve this dish, whether casual or fine-dining. You can try it at your favorite restaurant or head to Bikandi Etxea. It's a family-owned restaurant serving traditional Basque stews and seafood in a lovely environment.
Bilbao Food: Txipirones
Another seafood dish worth sampling in Bilbao is Txipirones. It’s essential baby squid that’s cooked in their own ink. It may not look too appetizing because of the dark color, but don’t mind the unsightly appearance. Trust us; it's an amazing cuisine that once you taste, you'll want to come back for more.
You can order Txipirones in many Bilbao restaurants, but it’s also easy to make at home. Just prepare whole baby squid, sear them and poach until tender in a puree of sauteed vegetables, garlic, and white wine. Of course, you shouldn’t miss the squid ink that adds coloring and enhance its natural seafood flavors.
Txipirones is rich and dark, which may leave some color on your teeth. It’s a must-try in Bilbao, Spain though it’s probably not the best dish to eat on your first date or when trying to impress someone.
Bilbao Food: Bacalao al Pil-pil
One of the most iconic Basque dishes is the Bacalao al Pil-pil, a dish you can order at almost any restaurant throughout the city. Bacalao means cod fish, and Bacalao al Pil-pil is a favorite meal that locals will always recommend tourists to try out.
Bacalao al Pil-pil has basic ingredients, so you can easily make it at home. These include salted or seasoned codfish, chili peppers, garlic, and olive oil. The cooking process includes frying the cod with garlic in olive oil. Then you can add the chili peppers to give it a kick. When the cod is being cooked, you’ll notice a creamy sauce forming from the natural oils of the fish and the olive oil.
Although the recipe was created long ago, the taste will never get old. Until now, it has been a staple dish of the Basque country, something the locals will always be proud of presenting to the tourists.
Bilbao Food: Bacalao a la Vizcaína
The Basque Country loves its bacalao, or dried and salted fish, so don’t be surprised to find another Bilbao food centered on this ingredient. Hailed from the Basque Country is Bacalao a la Vizcaína, which can be traced back to Bilbao and Northern Spain, but is also popular in Latin America. It’s a part of the menu during holidays in the areas in the region, such as Easter, Holy Week, Christmas, and New Year's Eve.
There are a lot of cod dishes in Bilbao, but the Vizcaya-style cod fish is probably the most popular. The original recipe of this dish used to be simple, with only baked cod smothered in a red sauce called Vizcaina sauce. It uses pimiento choricero (a type of red pepper), onions, and garlic.
Over time, tomatoes were used instead of red peppers to soften the pepper’s intense flavor. Some home cooks also add olive oil, parsley, chorizo, and other ingredients and spices. You can order it at many restaurants in Bilbao, but it’s also a common dish prepared at home for family dinners.
Bilbao Food: Piperrada
Piperrada is a flexible dish that can go with different meals. It’s a Spanish bell paper and tomato stew or a pepper sauce from Spain’s northern region. It’s healthy and colorful and makes a great companion for pan-seared fish, fried eggs, and even your favorite pizza.
The primary ingredients are bell peppers, tomatoes, and onions, though the proportions may vary, like many traditional dishes ingredients. You can consume it as a side dish, which works well with roast or grilled fish and meat. But in Basque Country, locals frequently serve it with eggs as a first course.
Piperrada is full of flavor and easy to prepare. You can make it ahead of time and keep it for several days in your fridge to accompany your other favorite meals. It also makes a great breakfast or snack when served hot with crusty bread.
Bilbao Food: Marmitako
If you're in Bilbao and up for a fusion between traditional stew and seafood, you better try their very own marmitako. Also known as tuna pot, marmitako is a traditional Basque stew that is best eaten when newly cooked during the cold winters of the Basque country.
The strong and savory taste of this dish is all thanks to the flavors of its ingredients. It includes tuna, potato, tomato sauce, garlic, green and red pepper, parsley, paprika, and olive oil. This hearty concoction made this simple dish an all-time favorite that will warm you on cold days. The secret to making the best marmitako is cooking it slowly over a low fire to make it even tastier.
In Bilbao, the winters are long, wet, cold, and windy. So there is no better way to warm you up than having a hearty meal of marmitako to complete your dining experience.
Bilbao Food: Txuleton
It’s a common belief that the best steaks come from young cows. Their meat has generally been considered superior to older cows because it’s more tender and thought to be healthier. But the Basque Country believes otherwise, and the Txuleton will stand as proof to it.
Also referred to as Txuleta or Chuleta, Txuleton are enormous rib steaks from mature cows. It was born in the heart of the Basque region, the Astigarraga, about an hour’s drive from Bilbao. It has become a favorite feature in restaurant menus in Bilbao and across the country.
Its origin comes from the Basque farmers who exchanged beef for cider at the cider house tastings around the small Astigarraga village. The cider tastings were attended by private individuals, restaurants, farmers, and wholesalers. When the cider tasting sessions became more popular in the region, locals would bring food, turning the tastings into a social gathering. Then some of the old beef exchanged for the cider was cooked over charcoal.
This gave birth to the delicious Txuleton steak and the start of the Txotx season. The Txotx season is now an annual tradition and a famous regional astronomic event. It is also one of the Basque Country’s most iconic celebrations, drawing in locals and visitors from around the world.
Bilbao Food: Txangurro a la Donostiarra
Another culinary treasure the region is proud of is Txangurro or stuffed spider crab. Unlike many traditional dishes with unknown origin or less information about their creator, this seafood recipe has a clear history. It was created by Chef Félix Ibarguren, also known as Xixito or Shishito. Its appearance was a gastronomic revolution in the usual Spanish cuisine made in the early twentieth century.
Txangurro a la Donostiarra is a creative dish using a significant ingredient of Basque gastronomy, the spider crab or txangurro, which was always eaten with the hands. It’s undoubtedly a laborious recipe because you have to break the shell with a hammer or nutcracker and then remove all the crab meat from the shell of the legs, ribs, and head.
However, in the end, it turns into a luxurious meal that’s definitely worth all the effort and patience it takes to prepare. Sprinkle it with finely chopped parsley and serve.
Bilbao Food: Basque Cake
Of course, this list won't be complete without adding a sweet treat. If you’re hungry for dessert, taste Basque cake or pastel Vasco. It’s not only loved but also revered in the world of sweets in northern Spain. But this classic dessert also has a French identity. Its fame came from the seafarers who passed through the Basque Country and sampled this delectable dessert. It used to be reserved only for special occasions until it eventually spread to the rest of the area from the north.
The ingredients in making the Basque cake have changed significantly, but one thing remains –its delicious flavor and mouthwatering nature. Today, you can make your Basque cake at home with eggs, flour paste, butter, sugar, and pastry cream. To add a twist to this succulent meal, you can also add an apricot or any fruit fillings you like. You can enjoy it as it is or serve it with tea and coffee.
Head to Basque Country for Tasty Dishes
You no longer have to worry about what to eat in Bilbao because plenty of classic dishes are waiting for you in this beautiful Spanish city. Whether you’re craving street food, want to try their snack bars, or wish to experience fine dining at a fancy restaurant, Basque cuisine is guaranteed to please your palate.
And if you’re concerned about the amount of food you’ve consumed, tackle some of the best hikes in Bilbao. There are also natural attractions and parks that will motivate you to put on your walking shoes and shed off some calories while admiring the scenic sights in the city.