Don’t say Tapas, say Pintxos

Set within the Basque territory of northern Spain close to the French border, Donastia (Basque language)-San Sebastián is a popular tourist spot brought to prominence when the Spanish royal family chose to spend their summers in this seaside town. Since then, it has attracted attention as a foodie destination with its local pintxos and high density of Michelin starred restaurants. It has the most Michelin stars per capita in the world. In the 2011 Michelin guide, there are 9 restaurants boasting a total of 16 Michelin stars: Arzak, Akelaŕe, Martín Berasategui (all three with 3* Michelin) and Mugaritz (with 2*). The city is centered around Playa de la Concha and is surrounded by green mountains. The city is divided into 2 by the River Urumea with Monte Igueldo on the west and Monte Urgull on the east.

19th century city hall of San Sebastián

The Basilic of Saint Mary of the Chorus among the narrow streets of the city (Parte Vieja, old quarter)

On the east side of River Urumea, you’ll find Gros District, which is the modern part of town. Puente de la Zurriola (Zurriola Bridge) also known as the Kursaal Bridge, joins the city centre and the Gros district, and is famous for its modenist lamps.

The main monument in Gros is Kursaal which holds all major exhibitions and conventions hosted by the city. This week it’s the city’s 59th International Film Festival which welcome the likes of Clive Owen, Antonio Banderas and Vincent Cassel.
There are 3 city beaches in San Sebastian. La Concha beach is the largest and most central.
Playa de Zurriola (in Gros district)
El Peine del Viento by Eduardo Chillida
The narrow streets

The typical Spanish culture involves tapas, small dishes usually consumed in one or two bites along with a small glass of beer or wine (white or red). The Basque have their own dialect (which I have yet to understand) and the tapas here are known as as pintxos (where as in Madrid and Barcelona, they are called tapas). The “tx” is pronounced like “ch” so “pintxos” sounds like “pinchos”. Pintxos means “spike” and traditionally the kittle snacks consist of an ingredient nailed onto a piece of bread with a toothpick equivalent. Some people regard pintxos as being the best form of tapas and that San Sebastian has the best pintxos.

Most of the recommended places that serve pintxos are congregated in the old town, Parte Vieja, in the northern part, next to the beach. Most of them are bars and taverns (taverna, taberna) and locals usually order from the bar, grab their goodies and eat it at the bar or on a counter nearby; not all places have a sitting area and some charge higher prices for using them. Here, people trust each other, as when you go to pay, they ask you what you ordered because they forget with all the clients they serve – definitely an honest community here.

Lots of people tend to do a bar crawl or “txikiteo” in Basque, ordering only one or two items per location, imbibing a bit of a drink, then moving on to the next spot. This worked out quite well for us as we could try out each bar’s speciality. Here’s a preview.

Txakoli – slightly sparkling, dry and crisp (even salty?) white wine, speciality of the region. Usually poured from a distance above the glass to create a little fizz.
Tinto – House red wine
Bergara – Calle General Artexte, 8 (Gros district)

Risotto de Hongos con Foie

Croqueta de Jamon

Tosta de Bacalao (codfish)

Iturrioz – Calle de San Martin, 30

Crema de Erizos

Meson Martin – Calle de Elkano, 7


Crema de Hongos e Bacon con Jamon Iberico

Piquillos Rellenos de Morcilla

Taberna Dakara Bi –  Calle del Treinta y Uno de Agosto, 27

Tosta de Jamon y Huevo de Corodniz (quail)

Taco de Solomillo con Foie y Reduccion de Frutos del Bosque

Morcilla de Leon con pinones y piquillos

Ganbara – Calle de San Jerónimo, 21 (Known for its mushrooms)

Pastel de Hongos

Hueva de Merlu

Hongos a la Plancha (can be ordered with egg)

Casa Vergara – Calle Nagusia Kalea, 21

Piquillos Rellenos de Angula (baby eel)

Brocheta de Pulpo

El Habanito - Morcilla (Black pudding, Black Sesame and Tomato sauce)

Sandwich de Jamon Jabugo

Atari Gastroteka – Calle Nagusi Kalea, 18
A MUST-visit. From the sights to the tastes, everything is one of a kind. Gives pintos a modern twist.

Rabo (oxtail) Estofado

Carrileros (beef cheeks) Guisados

Basatxerri con salsa piquillos

Platillo de Bonita, Antxoas y Guindillas
Platillo de Brie y Nueces
La Cuchara de San Telmo – Calle del Treinta y Uno de Agosto, 28
Morcilla con Jamon y Pimiento frito
Croqueta de Txangurro
Bar La Cepa – Calle del Treinta y Uno de Agosto, 7 (Known for its Jabugo)

Queso de cabeza de javali (head-cheese of wild boar)

As I said earlier, the best way to experience San Sebastián’s delicious indigenous food is on foot, mooching along from bar to bar, slowly becoming pleasantly full. Part of the idea is that the food not only tastes great but prevents you from getting drunk. It’s really hard to eat badly in San Sebastián.

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