On a spring day, I was led through an unmarked door to an underground club in San Sebastián. My guide was a local named Cristina Ibañez. The place, Peña Hipica Donostiarra, was outfitted with a long communal table, an honors system liquor cabinet, and an open kitchen. Together, we prepared a lunch of white asparagus, eel-shaped hag fish, boquerones (sardines), and pantxineta (a custard-cream filled Basque puff-pastry cake), all washed down with crisp local Albariño.
Some five years ago, this meal would have been inconceivable. A traveler such as me wouldn’t have been allowed into the private club. And such women as Ibañez would have been a rarity, invariably prohibited from cooking.