In San Sebastian, they know food. This Basque city in the far north of Spain has an all-consuming obsession with high-quality cuisine, a gastronomic culture like few others, a never-ending drive to respect tradition while always pushing the boundaries to create something new, something exciting, something delicious.
This is the home of pintxos, the small bar snacks of almost impossible complexity and brilliance. This area plays host, too, to some of the world's best restaurants: Arzak, Mugaritz, Etxebarri, Martin Berasategui.
So it's a bit of a surprise to wander into Sakona, the local hipster coffee shop. You know the type of place: they roast their coffee beans on site, in a modern, industrial-style space; they do three coffees – an espresso, a piccolo, and a flat white – and three coffees only; they sell food too, things like eggs benedict and smashed avocado on toast with a poached egg.
You know this type of place because, if you're Australian, you go to one at least once a week. Probably more.
It is, essentially, an Australian cafe. All of the signs are there: the industrial-chic decor, the coffee obsession, the smashed fruit, the poached eggs, the friendly welcome from the bearded baristas.
What is an Australian-style cafe doing in the gastronomic capital of the world?, you might think. What is this city of foodie obsessives doing heading out for a flat white and some smashed avo on toast?
The answer: it's good. Sakona Coffee, near the famous Parte Vieja in San Sebastian, is popular because it's really good. Their coffee is the best in town. Their brunch is exactly what people need.
For me this sight of smashed avo on a cafe menu in northern Spain causes a swelling of pride, a bizarre pang of homesickness. Because, Australia: we have a gastronomic export. We have a foodie thing that we can call our own, and that other people are embracing and respecting. Sure, few people actually know it has anything to do with our faraway land down under, but that doesn't matter.
Now, smashed avo and flat whites are taking over the world, one bearded hipster at a time.
It's not just San Sebastian, either. Paris is going nuts for Australian-style brunch. Paris! There's an outlet of Hardware Societe, the Melbourne classic, open in Montmartre. It's wildly popular. There are local French takes on Aussie brunches too, at the likes of Holybelly and Cafe Mericourt. (Shakshuka! Granola! Green juices and acai bowls!)
London, famously, has plenty of Australian-style venues to set back your quest for a mortgage. There's Lantana, there's Beany Green, there's Barossa, there's Caravan. There's also Granger & Co, yet another laidback, Bondi-style brunchery from he of the Bills empire.
Bills is almost solely responsible, in fact, for spreading the Aussie brunch word to places where it was previously unheard of. There's a Bills in Tokyo peddling ricotta hotcakes to a clientele more used to ramen noodles. (And don't forget his outlets in Osaka, Kanagawa and Fukuoka.)
There are three Bills brunch cafes in South Korea. Another Bills in Hawaii.
In mainland US, outside the Bills empire, you'll also find plenty of tattooed types peddling piccolos and benedicts. Los Angeles is packed with Australian-style places like Great White and Gum Tree. NYC might have bagels and pizzas and dirty-water dogs, but it also has avocado toast at Two Hands, and kale salad bowls at Ruby's.
It's not just the food itself that's being embraced either, but the whole idea of brunch, the whole notion of getting together with friends at mid-morning on the weekends and going out for a meal. That's not something people do in a lot of cultures. Except, now they are.
Australian brunch is a genuine cultural phenomenon, one of the few – if the only – culinary exports we can be proud to call our own. Some of these cafes around the world are boldly, shamelessly Australian-themed, whereas others, like Sakona in San Sebastian, are a little more circumspect in their acknowledgment of influences. Still, as an Australian you'll recognise your brunch culture every time.
And it's spreading. It's gaining notoriety. Sooner or later people you meet overseas will stop banging on about shrimps on the barbie and start mentioning eggs benny. They'll no longer ask what kangaroo tastes like and instead ask if the ricotta hotcakes are the same in Bondi.
This is a thing we can be proud of. If they're into smashed avo in San Sebastian, then you know it must be good.
See also: The top countries for food in 2019 named
Have you noticed Australian-style brunch and coffee places on your travels? Do you think this is a culinary export we can be proud of? Or did someone else really invent it?
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