Eating Pintxos In San Sebastián - A How-To Guide
The Basque region in the north of Spain is a gastronomical hub. "Pinxtos," prounounced "pinchos," are the bite-sized (or two-bite) local tapas. With Euskara being the traditional language of the Basque region, the word "pinxto," translates to a thorn or spike and has come to characterize these fantastic small bites. Through a communion of perfect flavors and prime quality ingredients, these elegant yet simple culinary treats have brought much fame to San Sebastián. Known as "txikiteo," the locals spend their evenings hopping from bar to bar with friends to sample the most fresh. Here, we outline how you can partake in your own tkikiteo...
5 TIPS FOR ORDERING PINTXOS
Expect standing room only
The best pinxto bars are known by the locals. This means they are quite crowded. If you are in the right place, others will likely also be there. Since pinxtos are usually consumed while stopping in multiple bars, the setting is quite casual and the bar counter tends to be the most popular spot. Often, you will find locals standing at the bar, consuming their pinxtos, and tossing their napkins on the floor. This is customary. At the bar, you will get first dibs on the freshest pinxtos coming out of the kitchen, and will most easily be able to get an order in with the bartender. You may be able to find a seated table, however, most pintxos bars are small, crowded places, so be prepared to stand.
Don't stock up
Because much of the fun of a txikteo is moving from place to place with a group, don't overdo any one spot. A pinxto or two per person should keep you fueled at each stop, while allowing you a sample of aparticular bar's flavor. Most bars will provide you with a plate which allows you to keep the delicious juiciness of these pinxtos off of your shirt, however, these are not meant to be dinner plates that you should stack full with pinxtos. And remember, the pintxos are meant to be bite-sized. Use your hands. Fork and knife dissections are not usually necessary.
Hot versus cold
The pinxtos you see at the bar aren't usually the end of the story. Before your mouth starts watering and you fill up on the display in front of you, make sure you read the local chalk board or paper menu if available. The hot pinxtos are usually made upon order from the kitchen and are listed somewhere behind the bar. These are often a bit more substantial, intricate, delicious, and also more expensive. Some bars only make pinxtos to order, so if you pop in and find people eating pinxtos but nothing displayed, there is a menu to be found.
Drink like the locals do
Typically a drink is ordered with a pinxto. This varies from water, to grape juice, to the classic local beverages of txakoli or a zurrito. A txakoli is a small pour of a sparkling dry white wine from the region. It is usually poured from high above to add to the effervescence. A zurrito is also a popular choice. This is usually a 6 oz. (smaller) pour of the house draft beer (Mahou, Keller or San Miguel). The house red and white wines are always available too.
Form a kitty
If sampling with a group, make sure you have the financial logistics figured out beforehand. Since often you are relaying to the bartender which pinxtos you consumed, it becomes quite difficult to separate out bites from a large group when the time comes to square up. It's best for all to throw in a specified amount to start (for example: everyone puts in 15 euro), and to take turns buying rounds at each bar, paying the tab with the group funds.
Common translations to recognize:
-bacalao: cod fish
champigñones and hongos: mushrooms; the champigñones are smaller button mushrooms whereas -hongos are giant wild mushrooms
-queso: cheese -pimientos: peppers -morcilla: black pudding sausage with rice -"a la plancha": grilled
Gilda: Named after Rita Hayworth's character in the 1946 film, Gilda, this combination of anchovy, green olives, and a guindilla pepper is held together by a toothpick and paired best with a crisp white wine such as txakoli
Places we recommend:
Borda Berri: A classic understated pinxto bar in La Parte Vieja (the old part of town) where you will find a small space filled with locals where all pinxtos are made to order. high-quality, excellent small bites. $$
Ganbara: Another classic in La Parte Vieja. A bit more upscale in atmosphere, the decor is an homage to the maritime culture to SanSebastián. Everything is a hit here including the famous mushrooms. $$$ Bar Donosti: Located in the lively neighborhood of Gros, this is a true locals spot off the traditional tourist trail. You will find simply the classics here and a lively atmosphere where the floor is filled with thrown napkins every night from very satisfied patrons. $
Bar Iguelda: Located a bit further from El Centro in Amara Nuevo, this is another excellent find lively with locals and off the beaten trail. With great cafe tables out front, this spot is the perfect place to enjoy a 4 euro plate of calamari and fresh white wine on a sunny afternoon away from downtown. $.