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Aunt Mertxe’s menu

I arrive in Berango with a knot in my stomach. The town hasn't changed much: the same people still go to the same bars, and the streets that used to be empty still are. It's me who has changed somewhat, having shed five kilos and gained a shipwrecked appearance. Aunt Mertxe awaits me in number 39 Berangotxu Street, ready to hit the kitchen but a little shy for the camera. Today is her birthday: Mertxe Nafarrate Arkotxa turns 79. But it's her who gives me the first present as soon as I'm in the door: a box in which she's been carefully collecting all the press articles from the last three months. How could I not pay her this tribute? She couldn't be more charming!

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Fourteen ingredients for Aunt Mertxe

When eighty days have passed since we left Athens... We once again touched Basque land! It has been twelve weeks full of experiences and emotions that have allowed us to visit numerous regions, meet incredible people, learn delicious recipes, collect stories... and the most important, fill up our panniers for Aunt Mertxe!

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The eleventh ingredient: Penedès wine

As we pass through the Baix Llobregat region with its large, bustling, working-class towns, we are getting to know another Catalonia – which, by the way, reminds us of the left bank of the Bilbao estuary. In the 1960s, its towns were home to many workers from other aregions such as Andalusia and Extremadura, and it is thanks to this that we have been able to meet Carmen and her family in Abrera. She is originally from Valencia and her husband is from Jaén.

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The tenth ingredient: White beans!

We have one month to go before we return home, but the truth is that we have often felt right at home during this journey. One example of this is the experience we had in the small town of Lladó, which is where we met Teia, a cheerful and hard-working lady aged 63. The town lies fifteen kilometres from Figueras and has close links with the Basque Country. This is because Lladó is twinned with Zizurkil in Gipuzkoa, and its choir – of which Teia is a member – has travelled to the Basque Country.

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The ninth ingredient: Pepper!

After leaving Marseille behind and starting to make our way to Montpellier, we stopped off in Arles. The old part of the city won us over with its Roman amphitheatre and its streets and bars packed with tourists. However, as we got further away from the centre, we found ourselves in the working class neighbourhoods with their huge, ugly, grey tower blocks that aren't shown on the postcards. This is where most of the area's immigrants live.

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The eighth ingredient: mozzarella!

There's no need to explain that Rome exudes grandeur and elegance in every corner: palaces, monuments, museums..., the list is endless. And of course, the woman we've met there is not far behind.

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The seventh ingredient: pomodorini

It's 5pm in the little town of Moiano de Vico Equense. The heat is suffocating, and the square is empty; no one dares set foot in the street. One car and two birds. That is all. The only sound comes from a small restaurant on the square called "Dárenato", the town bar. That is where we met the lovely Carmela, with whom we tried penne alla sorrentina, a perfect pasta dish.

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The sixth ingredient: passion

When preparing any recipe it's essential to choose the appropriate ingredients. To have a knack is important, of course, but the quality of the raw material also influences the result —something that Aunt Mertxe never stops repeating. We've searched for quality ingredients in both Greece and Italy, but the breathtaking town of Positano has taken us into new territory.

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The fifth ingredient: cavatelli!

When we ask ourselves about Italian gastronomy, we tend to fall back on the equation "pasta + pizza = Italian gastronomy". And we lapse into the stereotype. It's a simplistic reflection.

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The fourth ingredient: mussels

We got the first ingredient from Italy in a small village called La Lama, near to Taranto, on a small street surrounded by houses. Among the houses there is a church and, of course, a couple of pizzerias. On Via Girasole we met Margherita, a simple woman who was somewhat shy at first, but very friendly. She was born in Milan and used to travel back and forth to Switzerland each day for eight years, where she worked as a seamstress. It was tiring work and with little thanks, but it helped her and her family to move forward.

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The third ingredient: walnuts

Before saying farewell to Greece we found the third ingredient for Aunt Mertxe, and I honestly don't know if I'll manage to convey the peculiarities and the history behind it.

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The second ingredient: Oil!

We acquired Aunt Mertxe's second ingredient in the Synoikismos area of Corinth, and it isn´t just any ingredient. We've got our hands on Peloponnese gold, the backbone of Mediterranean cuisine, the star of most dishes - oil!

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The first ingredient: oregano!

Our challenge of finding Aunt Mertxe's ingredients started in Athens, but we didn't even have to leave because that is where we found our first one: oregano. Yes, we are in Greece, not Italy, but from what we are told, the oregano in Hellenic gastronomy is just as amazing as it is in Italian cuisine. I've tried, and I can tell you that it is.

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The five routes are now underway from the Biziz touring embassy!

The ambassadors of the five cycling routes of the Biziz touring embassy and its team of colleagues are now underway in Europe. Below you can find out where each route is at the moment.

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In Search of Ingredients for Aunt Mertxe

"In Search of Ingredients for Aunt Mertxe", that's the name of this project which, using gastronomy as its basis, shall unite Greece and the Basque Country by bicycle. It's a pretty strange name, I can't deny it. The project itself isn't very conventional either. But the name does make sense... at least to me!

Laurita Siles

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