Foodie must-do: The pintxo crawl in San Sebastian

Just drop it” said the barman, pointing to the used paper napkins in our hands.

We looked at each other incredulously and then glanced at the floor… only to realize that we were surrounded by a pool of crumpled tissues.

Messy… good! No mess means no business”, he explained animatedly.

Ah!

Sufficiently enlightened; we shrugged, promptly dropped our napkins to the floor and greedily began eyeing the next masterful culinary creation to sink our teeth into.

And thus we had kicked off our gastronomic adventure – the famous pintxo crawl of San Sebastian.

It is a tradition that locals and tourists alike, practice during meal times – moving from one bar to another, indulging in Basque-style tapas (called pintxos), washed down with wine and accompanied by friendly conversations and laughter.

Often called the culinary capital of Europe, this gorgeous coastal city, is acclaimed for having the highest number of Michelin stars per capita – an impressive 16 stars for less than 200,000 residents. I am convinced that they have a pintxo for each resident, if not more.

The rows upon rows of creations of varying shapes, colours, ingredients, flavors and textures that lined one bar counter after another in the city, was mind-boggling to say the least. And there were many more, which weren’t on display!

Beef cheeks, pig’s ears, foie gras, anchovies, chorizo sausages, jamon, tuna, risotto, sun dried tomatoes, prawns, peppers, cheese, miniburgers…

All-out hysteria is the only way I can describe Hubby and my reaction as we embarked on this amazing epicurean experience.

With our very first bite of a humble-looking pintxo – prawns on a piece of baguette topped with a salsa of tomatoes and onions… we were sure we had died and arrived in foodie heaven!

We would surely have pointed to everything on the counter (the cold pintxos) and to each name scribbled in Spanish on the blackboard (the hot pintxos), and ended our “crawl” at the first bar we entered.

Thankfully, our hotel’s concierge had handed us a helpful “pintxo plan” with a list of some must-try bars and their specialties, so we had something to pace ourselves with.

Here are some of the highlights from our crawl(s):

  • Brocheta de Gambas (Prawn skewer) at Goiz-Argi – How good can grilled prawns taste? We had NO idea, till we’d tried these

Prawn Skewers at Goiz-Argi

  • Fois Gras at Astelena – There’s foie gras and there’s foie gras. And then there is the sublime version served up at Astelena, laid atop a crunchy breadstick and accompanied by apple, mango and raspberry chutneys. Mmmmmm

Foie Gras at Astelena

  • Carrillera de temera al vino tinto (Veal cheek with red wine sauce) at Borda Berri – Melt. In. Your. Mouth. (Their risotto is very famous too… but less carbs means more room for pintxos)

Veal cheek with red wine sauce at Borda Berri

  • Pimiento relleno de salsa tartara (Stuffed pepper with tartar sauce) at Bar Martinez – Mouth-watering creations in a pintxo bar oozing with character and charm

Stuffed pepper with tartar sauce at Bar Martinez

  • Makobe (Mini kobe beef burger) at Fuego Negro – deliciousness stuffed inside a pumpkin bun, with banana chips on the side

Miniburger at Fuego Negro

  • Hojaldre de txistorra (puff pastry of txistorra) at Ganbara – I could call it sausage in a blanket, but then that would be doing gross injustice to these bites of heaven served piping hot out of the oven in this bustling, family-run joint.

Puff party of txistorra at Ganbara

  • Sangria at Txondorra – We sampled a variety of txakoli (a sparkling white wine traditionally had with pintxos), tinto de verano (summer red wine), sangria and various whites and reds from the region across the bars. The sangria at Txondorra simply knocked our socks off. Perfect to wash down their house specialty of katafi crujiente de puerros y queso (Crispy leek katafi and cheese)

Crispy leek katafi and cheese at Txondorra

More tips on where to get your pintxo-fix in San Sebastian can be found here and here.

Hubby likes to tell everyone, that the only reason we didn’t come back with a refrigerator magnet from San Seb is because it was shaped like a pintxo, and I ate it!

He has a habit of exaggerating.

I must admit though that once or twice while writing this post, I was tempted to lick the screen.

In fact I did.

Just kidding of course!

Or am I??