I’ve been hitting a bit of a wall recently in my search for new pastries to review. Partly because of the world’s longest run of home fixtures for my local team, partly because the weather has been atrocious and partly because over the last few weeks I’ve had my passport out doing a bit of travelling. What that travelling does mean is that I have a couple of editions of the International Soccer Scran Series in my back pocket to play with which brings me to today and my trip to the Bay of Biscay to see Club Portugalete of the Spanish Tercera Division. So without much further ado let’s get elbow deep in a world of tiny sandwiches, pre-midday beers and a whole lot of rain.
When I initially booked my trip to the Spanish north coast I banked on at least one of Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad or Alaves having a home game as I looked to check off another team in my quest to complete the La Liga set (a quest that is still a good distance off completion at the last check I should add). So it was with a tinge of disappointment that my review of the always late to announce jornada schedule revealed that none of the aforementioned teams were at home during my stay in Bilbao. Ever one to flip a negative into a positive I reconvened and started searching the Segunda B & Tercera divisions of the Basque Country looking for a fixture. The result? An early Sunday morning metro from Bilbao towards the coast to watch Club Portugalete v Alaves B.
Situated around 35 minutes north of Bilbao from the city centre on the super cheap metro it is a short five-minute to walk to the game, and just another ten minutes further away is the Puente Colgante (or if you prefer the Vizcaya Bridge) one of the world’s oldest suspension bridges with a hanging cable car to take you across it in no more than minute. The walk up to the ground is highlighted by passing by a few Athletic Bilbao Peñas and aided by outdoor travellators to help those who feel that the hill is just that little bit too steep. There is no grandeur here or a stadium looming large over the distance, just a small ground in suburbia. It felt a little bit like home.
Eating Outside of the Ground
From what I saw eating outside the Estadio La Florida, Club Portugalete’s home wasn’t really the done thing. There were a few bars close by where I’m sure a few zurrito’s (think a caña except even smaller) could be had with the ubiquitous pintxo of your choosing but in the main the eating and drinking at for this football food fan primarily took place inside the ground.
Eating Inside the Ground
Eating inside the ground was a very similar experience to eating and drinking at one of the many bars I spent my time in during my few days in the Basque Country. At least from a service perspective. There was however two differences. One being the obvious exception that most bars don’t have 22 men running about a big grass field within them and number two…the rain. Sweet Jesus did it rain, and rain, and then just when you thought it was over it would rain again. Suddenly the reason I appeared to be the only person in the ground not holding an umbrella in my hand became all too clear. It did stop every now and again but I digress and at roughly 11:15am on a Sunday morning I tasted my first beer of the day.
On arrival at the bar/food stall beside the main entrance you were greeted with a sea of basqueness. Pintxos, a little rougher round the edges than you would see in a Bilbao bar but more in keeping with the football theme. An array of bocatas (small sandwiches), tortillas, snacks and various hot items. I had arrived in Bilbao late the previous night so I was immediately drawn to a Bocata de Jamon and it was everything that’s right with simple Spanish food. Soft white bread with a crispy crust enveloping a couple of salty slivers of wonderful jamon. The fat wilting a little in its natural surroundings.
These can be a little dry though once the meat is gone but my beer, of which I seem to have lost its name, helped to wash it down. It was hard not to look out at the pitch and the rolling green hills of the Basque countryside behind the ground and think, this is how Sunday’s should be.
The first half over of a competitive if not particularly entertaining game I made a move for my second bocata of the day this time choosing a Lomo, Salsa Brava & Queso number. This was again the perfect accompaniment to a cold beer. In my head I often liken the lomo-salsa brava union to the Spanish take on the Chinese char siu both of which are slices of pork brightened by a flavoursome and sometimes spicy coating around the edge and well cheese just goes with everything so there was little to complain about here. A bocata and a beer came in at a more than reasonable 3,50€ and for the more adventurous amongst you there was more than one occasion where I saw pints of vodka being drunk in three gulps or less.
As great as it would have been to go to San Mames, Anoeta or Mendizorrotza, I was happy that for this weekend the fates had led me to this little town on the Bay of Biscay to watch the kind of football I love. If I closed my ears and squinted just a little as the rain bounced off my shoulders I could’ve swore that I was standing on the terraces at Newlandsfield Park back home.
Club Portugalete Soccer Scran Top Tips
· Don’t be afraid to grab for what you want and pay later.
· The beer is full fat and eminently drinkable so treat yourself, you’re probably on holiday.
· Bring a brolly.
· Once the game is done stick around the towns of Portugalete and Las Arenas for a pintxo crawl through the streets, across the Puente Colgante and out onto the bay itself.
I really did enjoy my few days in Bilbao and the surrounding areas, if my numbers were right by the time I got my flight home back to Scotland I had managed to knock off around 25 bars in 72ish hours without ever once feeling like I was anything more than pleasantly tipsy or mildly full.
I hope you enjoyed this take on Basque football cuisine, the Madrid version is turning into a bit of an epic but I also have recently returned from Bavaria so will share my matchday experience from Nuremberg in the not too distant future. Also, (with all my fingers crossed) a trip to Girvan beckons at the weekend for a new pie review. Either way something will be on it’s way shortly.
So until next time go forth and eat pie (or Bocatas!)
Chris Marshall, is a BJTC accredited Radio Journalist with an honours degree in Communications & Mass Media from Glasgow Caledonian University. He has contributed to prominent football sites including Pie & Bovril, The Terrace Podcast, The Football Pink and The FBA’s as well as featuring in The Scotsman, STV and a number of other media outlets. A perennial ‘Scottish Sporting Optimist’ with a passion for food that has manifest itself in the wonder that is Meat Filled Pastries.