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The Scoopettes have tasted tapas all over Spain. The Basque Country gets our vote for ‘Best Tapas Ever’, San Sebastian being a favorite. Writer Christine Medina takes us on a little culinary tour through this stunning Basque city’s txikiteo scene.
By Christine Medina
San Sebastian is known, above all, for its beauty—and for its Michelin-starred cuisine. However, most travelers can’t afford Arzak-crafted dining experiences (though it is a highly recommended splurge!). This is where pintxos (pronounced peen-chose) come in. They’re San Sebastian’s everyman food, the Basque version of Spanish tapas that come in a variety of shapes and forms—all usually skewered to a piece of bread in bite-sized form.
Bar-hopping is an essential part to consuming pintxos, and it’s called txikiteo (chick-eh-teo). A group of friends, often referred to as a cuadrilla, gather around 9:00p.m. in San Sebastian’s oldest and most traditional neighborhood that offers over 500 bars and restaurants alone! You’ll head into one of the many bars, order a hard cider or txakoli (Basque white wine), and pick whichever pintxo you want from the bar. Here, the toothpicks that keep your pintxo together, as well as napkins, are tossed to the floor—don’t worry, everybody does it. After sipping down your wine, you’ll head to the next bar of choice and repeat the whole process until your money is out or you’re full.
I’m of the belief that one can never have a bad meal when in San Sebastian and txikiteo is a great way to sample the city’s cuisine without burning a hole in your pocket. Here are a few of my favorite pintxo bars found within the walls of the Parte Vieja:
1. Txalupa – Fermin Kalbeton Kalea, 3, San Sebastian – Donostia, Spain – No website.
For an overwhelming selection of pintxos and fast, friendly service, saddle up to the bar at Txalupa. My favorite? The foie gras smothered in apple sauce.
2. Ganbara Jatetxea – Calle de San Jerónim, 21 20003 San Sebastián – http://www.ganbarajatetxea.com/presentation
This family owned and operated pintxo bar is known for its mushrooms, so be sure to order a plate of one of their many varieties if you visit. Closed Sunday afternoons and all day Monday.
3. Bar Zeruko – Calle Pescadería, 10 20003 San Sebastián – http://barzeruko.com/
I love Zeruko’s modern interpretation of pintxos. My favorite pintxo is their tomato and Iberian ham brochette drizzled in an almond vinaigrette.
If you’re intimidated with the idea of pintxo-hopping on your own, or with fellow foreigners, don’t worry. You’ll find Basques to be generally warm and patient with your inexperience. Just remember, when plucking pintxos off of the bar to keep track of what you’re eating so when you go to pay (after you’ve finished eating) you can tell the bartender exactly how many pintxos and drinks you’ve had. While many bartenders will already know what you’ve consumed, the Honor System is used —so don’t even think about abusing it!
For more information on San Sebastian, check out their tourist website here. To get to San Sebastian, fly into its regional airport, or to Bilbao. Vueling and Iberia both fly to the Basque Country, or take RENFE trains.