Saturday, November 7, 2020


The closed gastronomic societies of San Sebastián, Txokosare a uniquely Basque phenomenon. Established at the end of the 19th century as a place of refuge for men to socialise and cook away from their ‘domineering’ wives, the Sociedades gastronómicas have come to encapsulate and preserve the culture that they were born out of.

Unlike the rest of the country, the Basque society is matriarchal.  These eating clubs exist only in the autonomous region of northern Spain. “Women ruled the house and there really was no role for the men, domestically, apart from stopping by to hand over their pay”, says a club member.

Since the first sociedad opened in 1871, food has been at the centre of life in the societies. Simple, classic fare – hake in green sauce with clams, or squid in its own ink – is preferred over complicated haute cuisine that the sophisticated kitchens and skilled cooks could potentially produce.

Most sociedades are constitutionally apolitical – meaning that conversation stays light hearted. Instead, the members discuss recipes, exchange advice on the best sources of local produce and chat about Basque football and horse racing.

“Spain went through a lot of social change in the 1980s. The sociedades were considered old fashioned for not opening up to women,” says Ranelli. Now, thankfully, many societies do admit women (though often not to the kitchen), and there are long waiting lists for membership.

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