One word – pinchos.
Or pinxtos if you prefer the native Basque tongue of San Sebastian, the most famous city in Northern Spain. Located in the heart of the Basque region, San Sebastian is a tourism hot spot. With beautiful beaches, gorgeous architecture, and some of the best cuisine in the world, a stop here is a no-brainer.
No-brainers are my specialty.
So is bar hopping among the many pincho taverns packed into the narrow cobblestone streets of the old town. With unassuming exteriors the only clue to the gastronomic wonderland that awaits inside, is the beautiful people spilling out into the streets with a glass of beer in hand a small tasty looking treat in the other.
Pinchos (literally thorn or spike) are what most foreigners think of when they say Spanish tapas. However a typical spanish tapa is more likely to be some greasy anchovies that sit under a cloudy plastic cover at your average corner bar.
Pinchos are heaven.
Typically these delicious concoctions consist of small slices of bread upon which an ingredient or mixture of ingredients is placed and fastened with a toothpick (hence pincho). Almost any ingredient can be put on the bread, but those most commonly featured in San Sebastian are fish such as hake, cod, anchovy; tortilla de patatas; stuffed peppers; and croquettes.
Set up along the bars for self-service, the toothpick also serves as an accounting tally – in order to determine how much you owe at the end of your meal you simply count the remaining toothpicks on your plate. However please note that this policy is not universal and could therefore lead to some embarrassing cross-cultural incidents (as you walk away from the bar with a loaded plate…).
Lesson learned – always check with the bartender about whether to pay up front or after consumption.
While pinchos originated in Basque country their popularity means that you can find them in most tourist centres around Spain – however for the real deal you need to head North. In San Seb you can find a range of pinchos from your cheap greasy variety to a highly sophisticated selection that are so pretty that you won’t want to eat them.
But then you will.
At the heart of pincho culture is a strong social element, fueled by the omnipresent social elixir, alcohol. Typically accompanied by a small glass of txikito (rosé wine), or beer, patrons stand around the bar gorging on what could pass for pure eye candy but is in fact edible.
Have I mentioned how much I love food?
And just in case you manage to make it out of the pincho bars (we barely did), you can lounge on the beautiful horseshoe beach, surf at the neighbouring beach, hike up to see the Jesus statue, or check out some of the famous sculptures around town by Basque artist and hero Eduardo Chillida.
And then return to eat more pinchos.