By Liz Carlson
Hidden between Pamplona and Bilbao, some of the better-known cities of Northern Spain, the city of Logroño is a food and wine lover’s secret paradise. Besides the world-renowned Rioja wine industry, Logroño is also well-known for it’s variety of pinchos (Basque: pintxos). Pinchos are similar to tapas and typical in Northern Spain.
They are small snacks usually skewered on a piece of bread with a toothpick. Most bars have a wide range of pinchos but many are well known for just one or two kinds. Logroño has a a couple of famous streets (calle Laurel and calle San Juan) jam-packed with pincho bars, and on a Saturday night it can be hard to move through the throngs of locals celebrating the end of a long week with good food and even better wine.
I usually go out for pinchos once a week with friends or colleagues; it’s really the best way to socialize in Logroño. Eleven to twelve is peak time, and on the weekends it can be pretty crowded with everyone ranging from babies in strollers to grandparents. That’s right, babies in a bar: no big deal. About once I month I am in a pincho bar with friends when I hear a high-pitched child’s voice yelling “Liz, Liz!” Oh, just one of my students. Only in Spain!
It’s typical to do a bote (pool of money) where everyone puts in ten euros or so, and someone holds on to it and is in charge of paying at each bar throughout the night. We go from bar to bar, ordering a pincho and a drink at each one, hence the bote. And by drink I mean Rioja red wine.
You can probably imagine how annoying and difficult it is to pay individually in a bar so packed full of people you’d think they were giving out free food. And with each pincho costing around a euro, they basically are! I usually have four pinchos, five if I am hungry, to make a good meal. Here I share my five favorite pinchos in Logroño on the calle Laurel. “¡Buen provecho!” as we say in Spain.
1. El Champi: By far the most famous pincho in Logroño is el Champi, short for champiñón (mushroom) in the Bar Soriano. This dive has been around for decades and there is usually a crowd of people hanging inside and out eating, you guessed it, mushrooms. El Champi consists in three grilled mushrooms stacked on top of each other, skewered together with a toothpick on a slice of bread, topped with a shrimp and covered in a piping hot secret garlic sauce. Served fresh hot off the grill, it’s really hard to wait until it cools off before stuffing it in your mouth.
2. Tio Agus: In Bar Lorenzo you’ll find this delicious pork pincho, served on a hot dog style bun. Four pieces of spiced pork are grilled to order before plopped in the bread and covered with a green, greasy secret sauce. It’s great to eat on a chilly night.
3. Piña y Langostino: This has to be one of my favorites, just like its name, it consists three grilled shrimp and pineapple skewered on a wooden stick, smothered in olive oil and sea salt. What an odd combination, but it is really delicious. I eat at Juan y Pinchomé almost every time I go out for pinchos, to the annoyance of all my friends!
4. Queso de Cabra, Jamón y Frambuesa: Bar Blanco y Negro is famous for their anchovy and green pepper pincho. To be honest, I am not a fan of those stinky fish, so I always go with their second best, a slice of bread topped with goat cheese, Spanish ham, and raspberry sauce. Another odd combination that just works.
5. Zapatilla: Finally I always finish at the Bar Mengula for my go-to pincho, the zapatilla. It is simple and filling, two things I always look for in food. It’s a long slice of toast covered with a tomato-like paste typical in Spain. The tomato is peeled and then grated on a cheese grater, making a light chunky tomato sauce and topped with Spanish cured ham. Delicious!
Liz writes Memoirs of a Young Adventuress which is about traveling and expat life abroad.