Your first awareness of the importance of the Basque people to Idaho may be through a family-style dinner in Boise, or perhaps a walk through the Basque Block. It wasn’t until I visited Boise that I realized that no US state is more associated with the Basque than Idaho.
It was over a multi-course dinner at The Basque Market, that I discovered the Idaho Basque people behind the hearty comfort food I was enjoying. It wasn’t quite Spanish. It wasn’t quite French, either. And there is a reason for that.
Who Are the Idaho Basque?
As I looked around The Basque Market, I saw specialty products, many from Spain, huge paella pans, and shelves of wines.
Behind the counter was a framed photograph of a young man, a donkey laden with supplies and a herd of sheep. Some of the words on signs and posters were unfamiliar to me. They weren’t Spanish or French, they were Basque.
There is no specific country where Basque people live. Basque Country includes three provinces in southern France and four in northern Spain, in the area of the Pyrenees Mountains. Three of the Spanish provinces form a somewhat independent community and have a Basque government, although this is still part of Spain.
Most Idaho Basque are from the Spanish area of Basque Country. The first Basques came as miners in the 1880s and 1890s, but when that didn’t work out, they turned to sheep herding. Thus, sheep and lamb dishes are associated with the Basque but I found out that seafood is more typically Basque.
Idaho Basque have worked hard to preserve their culture, language, folk art, dance and song. This is most evident in the Basque Block, a pleasant European style square lined with trees.
Located downtown between Capitol Boulevard and 6th Street on Grove, the Basque Block is comprised of two boarding houses (one with a unique indoor frontón ball court), the Basque Center, the Basque Museum and Cultural Center, Bar Gernika, Leka Ona restaurant, and the Basque Market. The Basque Market is also a restaurant and is where I experienced a marvelous Basque dinner.
Experiencing an Idaho Basque Dinner
Each Friday evening, The Basque Market provides an authentic Basque dining experience. For $25 you’ll be choosing an appetizer, a main course and dessert. Wine pairings and Pintxos (small plates, sometimes served with a cocktail pick) are also available for an additional charge. I’d recommend a nice Spanish wine. I chose their house red—a lush red Tempranillo—perfect for the chilly evening.
You’ll be seated at long community tables in the middle of this general store and deli. It’s a great atmosphere, casual, convivial, and the smells coming from the kitchen add to the experience and heighten the anticipation.
Offerings are seasonal and mostly locally sourced. For our first course, we had the choice of Fried Spring Rolls, Butternut Squash Bisque or the Basque Market Salad.
The main entrée choices were Beef and Pork Albondigas (meatballs), White Bean and Vegetable Stew or Braised Chorizo Lasagna.
Another option was the Albondigas, Spanish meatballs.
And for dessert, although we were quite full from our hearty meals, we were offered the Basque Market Pumpkin Flan, Chocolate Orange Torte or the more traditional Arroz con Leche (rice pudding).
As you dine, don’t be surprised if local Basque people come in to purchase specialized canned goods off the shelf behind you or pick up a take-out meal. Before you leave, be sure and have a look at the Basque goods for sale. Some are from Basque Country or made by Basque families.
Idaho Basque Food and More
I learned that The Basque Market hosts paella dinners and even has paella classes. So the huge pans I noticed in the shop were not just for decoration! And the sheepherder photo on the wall is of the owner’s family member.
They are a go-to Basque caterer and the day we were there, they were preparing for a large event.
When You Go to Boise
Because of the large concentration of Basque people in Idaho, and particularly in Boise, you’ll have the opportunity to see cultural festivals, sample the foods of Basque Country and learn more about their history. I highly recommend a Basque dinner at The Basque Market.
A must-visit for more information on the Idaho Basque is the Basque Museum and Cultural Center in the Basque Block. The entire downtown area of Boise is very walkable and you’ll find more historical sites and places to explore in the area during your visit.
Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with accommodations, meals and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.