On Calle 31 de Agosto in San Sebastian, it seems every other doorway leads to a pintxo bar. Music and laughter fill the street, and the smell of fried seafood permeates the air. In a town of over 200 pintxo bars, the choices are endless.
Not just your usual fried croquette or ham on toast, pintxo (pronounced peen-cho) owners go above and beyond with their creativity to be something special. From Michelin starred restaurants to the smallest hole-in-the-wall eatery, the Basque city of San Sebastian in Northern Spain has been the forerunner of molecular gastronomy and cuisine for over a decade. Foie gras, sea urchin, sardines and shark are just some of the savory ingredients you’ll find at these establishments. Pintxo bars even have their own annual pintxo competition in October to see who has the best, most creative pintxo in town. Chefs and owners pack a lot of flavor and vision into their small plate wonders using seafood, meats, cheeses, and vegetables, raw, fried, roasted and toasted.
The one thing I was really looking forward to on our gastronomical tour of the Basque country was a pintxo bar crawl called a txikitea (pronounced chick-e-tay-oh). Before we embarked on our pintxo crawl I spent weeks researching the Spanish and Basque names of different food items. A great website called http://www.todospintxos.com became my main resource that displayed pictures of pintxos, bar names, locations, and popular routes.
We hit the streets of the Parte Vieje (old part) section of San Sebastian and forgot all about the bar and must-try pintxo list tucked in my back pocket. There’s no systematic approach to a pintxo crawl. You stand in most bars, order a glass of wine or beer, talk about the day, and choose what you want from the assortment displayed across the counter. Iberico ham and sardines are a favorite of the locals. Txokoli, a low alcoholic white wine produced in the Basque country is light and refreshing with the salted meats and fish. At the end, the bartender counts your toothpicks or just knows how much you consumed (honor system), adds your drink, and you pay and head out to the next one.
Choose, eat, drink, enjoy. Next bar, repeat. This is the way I like to eat.