Traveling is an enriching, eye-opening wondrous experience from the scenery to the people, to the food. Sure, preparing octopus in your kitchen may seem like a daunting task that you’re likely to skip — but eating it in a restaurant prepared by chefs who make it their business to create an epic seafood dish is something entirely different. At GetAway Travel we are big proponents of adding adventurous eating and drinking to your list of things to do on vacations, because we do. That’s one of the reasons we can make your next getaway a vacation to remember.
Every country, region, city, town and even tiny village you visit while traveling likely has specialized cuisine you should not pass up. Whether you are eating in a five-star restaurant or a cafe by the side of a canal, it’s a sure bet the wait staff can give you a great dining recommendation. When traveling in the Basque region of Northern Spain, the wait staff or the bartender, will likely advise you to partake in a pintxos or two.
What exactly is pintxos?
First, it’s not a tapa. Tapas are small versions of larger meals. Pintxos are more like appetizers, although it is possible, certainly, to make a meal of them. Pintxos (pronounced peen-chos because in Basque the tx is pronounced like the ch in cheese) are delightful little skewered bites. The literal meaning of pintxos or pinchos, is skewered.
Think of them as the flavors of the Basque region on a toothpick. Notice we didn’t say Spain because Basque cuisine is a whole different experience than what you find in the rest of the country. Basque cuisine is elaborate and unique so don’t get the idea a pintxos is like a piece of meat and cheese slapped on a cracker.
There’s not going to be any crackers in sight. Pintxos are items skewered to bread amped to the nth degree.
Think dry cured ham, queso, mushrooms and/or pickled mushrooms, octopus, chorizo, red peppers on tuna or with hake, salt cod or lovely pickled white anchovies on a sturdy, small piece of bread. Or your pintxos on a bread base could be a croquette, a small stuffed pepper, a piece of tortilla de patatas (a sort of omelette with potatoes), dates with bleu cheese or manchego, figs with honey, lamb paired with cheese or as trendy as foie gras with creamy bean sauce.
Here’s how they are served, ordered and eaten
Sometimes you order off a menu, sometimes you serve yourself and sometimes a bar offers both options. If you ask for pintxos and the wait person hands you a plate, that means you serve yourself from trays of items that are on the bar. You save your toothpicks or skewers and you are charged per skewer.
If you notice different types of skewers or different colored toothpicks, that means there may be different charges for different pintxos. If you helped yourself to a foie gras pintxos versus a dried ham and pickled veggie pintxos, one might cost more than the others.
Or, it could be on the honor system and the wait person charges you for your drink and six pintxos and your help yourself to six.
Although there may be a temptation to load up on them at the first bar, if you are going to more than one, pace yourself, after all, there’s still dinner to consider.
The bar may offer “cold” pintxos and those would be the ones on the bar, and a menu of hot pintxos made to order.
Pintxos are serious business in Basque Country. There are competitions for the best pintxos with trophies and bragging rights. If you go into a bar and there are small balled up napkins all over the floor, that’s a sure sign the pintxos are great. It’s customary in many establishments, after enjoying a particularly elaborately constructed pintxos to wad up your napkin and drop it on the floor. A word of advice, this is not likely a tradition that you should try and start at the next family Thanksgiving gathering.
If you are going to more than one bar, and there are such things as pintxos crawls where guides take groups to several bars, enjoy one or two pintxos at each. Enjoy pintxos with a glass of red wine or txakoli (chack-oh-lee) which is a sparkling, fruity white wine produced in the Basque Country.
You can moderate your beer intake by ordering a zurito which is a small glass of beer, comparable to little more than a half of a cup. A small glass of wine would be a chiquito.
After a hot day of touristy stuff, there’s nothing better than a beverage and a tasty bite. And, there’s nothing better than the perfect vacation coordinated by GetAway Travel. Reach us at: (262) 538-2140, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com