We have heard a lot about pintxos and I had seen them before in a few places but I wanted to try them first where they are the best in Spain: in the Basque Country and within the Basque Country, in San Sebastian.
Pintxos is snack type food, similar to tapas, that is typical of the Northern area (see my blog about tapas here). This is proper ‘finger food’, more so than tapas. They are kind of similar to canapés, as they are in general served cold in a slice of bread but you can get hot pintxos, too.
The name means ‘thorn’ or ‘spike’ and it relates to the stick that holds all the ingredients together. They have another purpose, too, they serve as a reminder of how many pintxos you have eaten. At the end of your meal at the till they count the number of sticks and that will make up your bill. Sometimes different priced pintxos have different kinds of sticks in them to indicate the difference in price.
They are usually eaten in bars while meeting with friends. Similarly to tapas, you don’t have a whole meal in one place but go from bar to bar and try their speciality, accompanied with a glass (or two) of beer or wine. It has a strong social connection to it and it is thought of as the main pillar of the local culture and society. This is how pintxos bars look like.
Ordering a plate of pintxos is a whole new adventure for the foreigner. The thing is, you don’t order them, you take the ones you like. It is a custom here to order your drinks and while you are waiting, you start eating what you see in front of you. At the end you tell the barman how many you have eaten and they will charge you accordingly. We generally asked for a plate then piled up on it what we wanted but there were places where they don’t give you the plate but look at you expectantly. Then you know that it’s time to start pointing.
Some pintxos are very elaborate and it’s as much pleasure to look at it as to eat it. You can find some bars in San Sebastian that pride themselves in the art of making pintxos. Well, we were hungry and we just wanted to try as many as we could so we didn’t make it to these sophisticated places but I have seen photos and it’s really worth a try.