Although Gascogne cuisine is well represented in Pyrenees-Atlantiques - famously sixteenth century French king Henry IV’s recipe for the masses of ‘poulet en pot’ or stuffed chicken boiled with vegetables - it is Basque cuisine with its signature red chilli peppers which makes food in this region unique.
Christopher Columbus’s navigator (a native of Bayonne) first introduced chilli peppers here. They were originally used as a medicine and then a preservative for meat.
Restaurants in the Petit Bayonne around the Nive quays would be a great place to sample’ piperade’ - a type of Basque omelette made with tomatoes and peppers and sometimes including Bayonne ham (one of the best air-dried hams in the world). Espelette chilli peppers are also used, together with tomatoes and onions in the sauce for ‘poulet basquaise’.
Try Ardour salmon or the delicacy of elvers. Atlantic fish are varied and plentiful. Make for the restaurants of Saint-Jean-de-Luz for tempting dishes of tuna, squid, salt cod and shellfish.
Wood-pigeons migrating over the Pyrennes are caught and served as a seasonal dish known as ‘salmi de palombe’. Ewe’s cheeses from the high pastures include 10 month old Fromage Brebis - a world cheese award winner. The locals eat it with jam.
For dessert, there’s delicious ‘gateau basque’, or candied cherries from Biarritz and stuffed walnuts. Sample the local Irouleguy wine and do visit the distillery on the north bank of the River Adour in Bayonne to taste colourful Izarra (old Basque word for star) liqueur.