Most people have heard of tapas, one of the many delights of holidaying in sunny Spain. The small yet delicious dishes which come in huge variety, from the popular patatas bravas tapa to those more specialised, with unusual ingredients cooked in unique ways. However the pintxo is slightly less well known, but equally tasty.
1. What’s in a word
Pintxos originated in San Sebastian (Donostia in Basque), a coastal city in the Basque Autonomous Community in northern Spain. The word itself is Basque for pincho, which in turn comes form the Spanish verb ‘pinchar‘ meaning ‘to pierce’. Given the traditional appearance of pintxos, a slice of bread topped with varying ingredients (Spanish ham, tortilla, fish, meat etc.), pierced with a cocktail stick to hold it together, this is a very apt name.
2. A tasty treat
Like tapas, pintxos come in a huge variety. There are many different toppings which can be used to make these special creations, although they often involve meat or fish, and often fried (also like tapas). In Spain lunch is eaten late and is the main meal of the day, so pintxos are a easy snack for dinner, especially with friends or colleagues in a bar after work, and often combined with a drink. They are usually served buffet style on the bar, for you to choose yourself, and it is common to collect the cocktail sticks from your pintxos, once eaten, and present these when you pay, where you will be charged according to number and size.
3. A history of pintxos
The concept of pinxtos was created when the trend for tapas reached the Basque Country in the 1930s, notably San Sebastian, the foodie capital of Spain. Instead of serving simple tapa dishes, certain bars in the city started to create miniature portions of their dishes, displaying them along the bar for customers to help themselves, and spearing each one with a wooden cocktail stick so that it was easier for their clients to keep them together. Later on in the 1940s the trend spread to other Basque cities such as Bilbao, Vitoria-Gasteiz and Pamplona, where they are still popular today.
4. Where to eat them
The popularity of pintxos has spread over the years and they can now be found (and eaten) in various places around the country. However, they are most common in northern Spain and for authenticity the Basque Country cannot be beaten. Cities like Bilbao and San Sebastian are known for their numerous pintxo bars and the extensive options they offer, and you can find them in bars, restaurants and food markets alike (Ribera Market in Bilbao is worth a trip!). The appearance and manner of serving may vary, sometimes you may pick your own, whilst at other times you may have to ask over the counter, and there are times then the pintxos may not necessarily have cocktail sticks or bread with them either. There are even several bars in San Sebastian with pintxo menus, creating fresh pintxos cooked to order, and the dish has also become associated with Basque gourmet cuisine, with many top Michelin-starred chefs across the region pushing boundaries with unusual flavours and ingredients and bringing a modern twist to the the classic pintxo.
In the Basque Country pintxos are an important part of life, summed up in the weekly pintxopote celebrations. A great combination of food, alcohol and socialising, pintxopote is traditionally one evening a week where bars offer one pintxo free for every drink bought. Locals head to their nearest bars to meet friends and make the most of the pintxopote offer, meaning that in towns around the region, streets are filled with residents catching up with friends over a drink and pintxo, or several. Truly the best way to absorb Spanish culture, pintxopote is the ideal way to experience pintxos, but failing that a trip to a local food market or bar to sample a few will do the job!