Basque Bites, or the Delicious Tradition of “Pintxos”

Pintxos are the Basque equivalent of the uber famous Spanish “tapas”: they are bite-sized servings of traditional dishes, always at-the-ready on bar counters throughout San Sebastián and the entirety of the Basque Country.

Their name comes from the Spanish verb “pinchar”, which means “to poke” because historically, pintxos used to be served on a small slice of bread and have a toothpick piercing through them.

Pintxos are omnipresent: almost every bar and restaurant in town offers them. Locals enjoy them at all times: don’t be surprised if you see an older patron soaking up the sun sitting at a table nibbling at a pintxo de tortilla, beer zurito in hand at 10am.

Although fine dining is synonym with San Sebastián – the city boasts nineteen Michelin stars spread over eleven restaurants within a radius of 25 km – some of the best bites in town are actually enjoyed from the self-service counters of the many donostiarra bars.

It is here that “bar crawl” takes a whole new meaning: locals hop from bar to bar not to binge on alcohol, but rather to relish in the best pintxo each bar has to offer -this is known as “pintxo pote”. If it’s your first time taking part, you will be undoubtedly faced with an inevitable question, as you stare at the pintxos galore on display: “What pintxo should I choose?” The choice might be impossible to make: some bars have over one hundred combinations, so just go with your gut feeling -you won’t be disappointed. Most of them are presented on a piece of bread to make it easier to eat them with your bare hands -no cutlery needed here!

Some classic pintxos include the famous gilda (anchovy with three piparras or chillies and a pitted olive held together beautifully by a toothpick), pintxo de tortilla, pimientos del padrón, mini ibérico sandwich, and more!

During the San Sebastián Festival, many celebrities walk the red carpet, but I dare say that the city’s pintxos are, in fact, the real stars of the show. The pintxos “business” is highly competitive: bars and taverns fight over coveted trophies that are given out annually for the best pintxos in their respective village or city. The bars are constantly trying to one-up the competition and in doing so, come up with avant-garde specialties to satisfy the demanding public. The most renowned pintxo competition in the region is the Euskal Herria Pintxo Contest, which was founded in Hondarribia in 2006 and is now celebrated in San Sebastián.

*Fun fact: for locals, pintxos don’t usually substitute a meal. They are generally eaten as a snack or as an appetizer before going home or to a restaurant to have lunch or dinner.

Are you hungry yet?

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