What’s the difference between tapas and pintxos? It’s like the difference between L.A. and S. F. Tapas are eaten in Southern Spain, pintxos in Northern Basque Spain. Both are delicious small bites of local foods and specialties and heavy on the pork– that’s Iberico pork or jamon to you. I don’t eat meat but I did try the Iberico ham whereever we ate. It’s tender, not super salty and almost the national dish, like hamburgers are to us.
Tapas culture reflects the warm, mediterranean climate and generous Southern spirit. The custom is to order a drink and they deliver it with a free tapa, most often olives or jamon on toast. We had the most wonderful dishes all along the way from the tortilla espagnol (cold omelet with potatoes) to incredible white sardines drenched in Spanish olive oil. There is simply no equivalent in the U.S. and nothing like the canned sardines crammed like, well, sardines , in those awful tins.
In the north, the free samples went away. Instead, pintxos became something of a foodie spectator sport. Each pintxo is petite and perfectly prepared, like a small piece of art. Some tasted like canvas, too! But mostly, they were incredible little bites of local specialties creatively executed. And the tradition in San Sebastian is that you don’t stay at one bar. You do the pinxtos crawl, moving from restaurant to restaurant trying the specialties of each.
Here’s our Friday night crawl through the heart of old town:
3. Slow -cooked veal cheek on bed of mashed potato; warm goat cheese with garlic and veggies and a glass of Rioja at La Cuchera de San Telmo
4. Shrimp brochettes and albondigas with a glass of sangria at Bar Goiz-Argi
Did I mention that at both tapas and pintxos bars you eat standing up? Yes, indeed. You order at the bar and squeeze in at either standing tables or at the bar and end up chatting with your neighbors and discovering their favorite dishes and something about their lives. We met tourists, locals and international travellers throughout our trip and there’s something so special and universal about sharing a meal with others.
We loved our pinxtos and tapas crawls, occasionally switching out for sit down dinners to have that experience as well. All in all, we had outstanding local food at almost every stop on our Spain journey.
- Day out in San Sebastian, night out in French B&B – San Sebastián – Donostia, Spain (travelpod.com)
- Quick Eats – Bar Pinxto (all-things-andy-gavin.com)
- 36 Hours: 36 Hours in San Sebastián, Spain (travel.nytimes.com)
- Experience Traditional Spanish Tapas Tours In London This Autumn (thefoodielist.co.uk)
- Ask the traveller: San Sebastian (independent.co.uk)
- San Sebastian Film Festival 2011 (pintxosboyinsansebastian.wordpress.com)
- A taste for Spanish pork (sfgate.com)
- Jamon Iberico: The Best of Natural Animal Farming (organaholic.com)
- Do You Tapas? (restrow.wordpress.com)