Another Pintxo Please

Traveling makes me hungry. Fortunately, here in the Basque Country, they are known for having the finest cuisine in Spain. With the freshest seafood, ripe market produce, and sumptuous snacks served in local eateries, gastronomic societies, and Michelin-Star restaurants, it is not hard to find something good to eat.

Karlos restaurant

Renowned TV chef Karlos Arguiñano and his restaurant in Zarautz

The restaurants in nearby San Sebastian boast more Michelin Stars per capita than any other place in the world. With my hearty appetite and tasting menus starting around $100 per person, we skipped these star joints and went straight for the standard Basque fare.

Txakoli grapes bunch

Txakoli grapes ready for harvest in Getaria

Instead of cleansing my palate between courses, I prefer to power-wash it with a cold beer or an economical local wine. In the Basque Country, the refreshing beverage of choice is txakoli (cha-koh-lee), where the sweet grapes for next year’s vintage are now ripe and ready for harvest.

Txakoli pour

How to pour a glass of txakoli

Txakoli is an acidic white wine, typically aged about four months, and poured from a height into a glass to release its natural effervescence. It pairs nicely with fish as well as the countless variety of snack foods called pintxos (peen-choz) served at every local bar.

Pintxo rack

Txipirones (fried baby squid) and other assorted pintxos

Pintxos are inspired Basque appetizers fastened to a slice of bread with a long toothpick. Stacked on top of the bar, you help yourself, and pay later for what you eat. Since each bar has its own specialties, you usually have one or two pintxos and a drink standing at the bar, and then move on to the next place.

Pintxo Bar

Pintxo-pote

This Basque version of the pub crawl explodes on a weekly basis during pintxo-pote.  Every Thursday evening for about two hours, bars advertise a pintxo and an alcoholic beverage of your choice (pote) for a steeply discounted price of about €2 (US$2.30).

Cheese wheels

Idiazábal cheese at the Guernica Monday Market

Like anywhere else in the world, the finest meals always start with the best ingredients. At farmer’s markets throughout the Basque Country, we found garden-fresh produce, quality cured meats, and Idiazábal, a handmade raw sheep’s milk cheese with a smoky flavor derived from the shepherd’s campfire.

Fish grill

Halibut and sea bream on the grill

All along the Basque Coast, freshly caught seafood is also harvested just offshore. For the main meal of the day, served between 2:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon, most restaurants offer a fixed price Menú del Día (menu of the day). These economical three-course meals include a bottle of wine and frequently present a choice of local sea bream, halibut, cod, or hake.

Gastro Club 2

Preparing hake with local chef (center) and our new Basque friends

Hake was also on the menu when our Airbnb host invited us to cook with them one evening at their local gastronomic society. Historically all-male, but now open to women membership, these private cooking associations have fully equipped professional kitchens and are often frequented by celebrated neighborhood chefs.

Gastro Club 3

Buen provecho from the gastronomic society kitchen

Although void of Michelin stars, these culinary clubs are known for being the best places in the Basque Country for an authentic dining experience. For us, it was a chance to combine fresh local ingredients, enjoy a traditional meal, and satisfy our hunger to learn more about the Basque Country and the finest cuisine in Spain.

Gulas

“Basque Pasta”, a baby eel substitute called Gulas

 

Feature Image: Traditional Basque pastries and espresso coffee

16 thoughts on “Another Pintxo Please

    • This post should probably have a warning label, Gilda. Something like: “Do not continue on an empty stomach”. I had read about the gastronomic societies, and jumped at the chance when our host offered to take us to their club. Our experience cooking with them gave us a taste of both the Basque food and the lives of the locals.

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    • We have enjoyed a lot of white wine (vino blanco) in Spain and the Basque Country, Janis. There are several varieties of white wine including Rueda, which is probably the most popular. Although red wines dominate in Spain, we found that a pintxo and a glass of chilled white wine is favored by the locals during the warmer weather. Every bar in the Basque Country serves the local txakoli. I am curious if we will find it in other parts of Spain. We were indeed fortunate to be invited to a Basque gastro club. It was a true travel highlight!

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  1. Hi guys. Amused by your opening words, “travel makes me hungry”, given the name of our blog! We are following your travels now, given how much common ground we have, love the idea of a pintxo pub crawl! We are travelling in stages until we retire (soon) and disappear. We can only hope we have as much fun as you two!

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    • Hi Michaela & Phil, All the walking and sightseeing does build appetite, doesn’t it? I have been enjoying your blog and have found much in common in your travel style and attitude. Indeed, hungry travelers such as you would find great satisfaction and a range of new and interesting tastes sampling pintxos in the Basque Country. We wish you the very best on your approaching retirement, and the freedom you will certainly welcome during your upcoming travels. Joe & Es

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      • Thanks Joe. As it happens, I have visited Bilbao, on a football (soccer to you!) trip with a mate a few years ago, and the pintxo scene is massively something I want Michaela to see, and taste. The colours of the displays are beyond mouthwatering. Enjoy more while you’re there!

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        • Will do, Phil. As you know, the Bilbao football club is legendary here. I was amazed to learn that they only play with Basque-born players. Going to a game at their new stadium must have been very exciting.

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    • I wish I could have been more of a help in the kitchen, Christi. They were just humoring me by giving me an apron and a wooden spoon. What I really needed was one of your recipes.

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  2. I had to share this post with my wife because I knew she’ll love all the pictures (you really outdid yourself this time, Joe). The halibut and bream look incredible over the flames, and I can only imagine how great they tasted. The way they charge for the appetizers sort of reminds me of a dim sum meal. 🙂 Great post! – Marty

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    • I’m glad that you and Gorgeous liked the foodie photos, Marty. The seafood and pintxos, along with the txakoli really characterized the great food here, and made for some nice pictures too. Eating and drinking on the honor system is easy at first, but after the third or fourth round, it starts to get confusing. Thanks! – Joe

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    • Sorry, Ann. I should have warmed you to eat a little snack before viewing this post. As you say, food is so integral to our identity and culture. In addition to the food itself, the local variations in eating habits and customs are also interesting. After two months here, I am still not used to having my main meal at 3:00 in the afternoon.

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    • Yes indeed, Dave. Although I have not seen any Guinness stout on tap, the bars are well equipped to handle all other food and drink needs of us pub crawlers.

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