Sunday, October 23, 2011

Pintxo Party!

A few weeks ago, I got to do something I have always dreamed about - kind of like a dream job I guess you could say.  Imagine...eating top-notch pintxos, sharing your experiences about life in Donosti, helping people make thier own memories here, drinking tasty wine and getting paid for it.  Yea!  I had the lucky opportunity to be a pintxo tour guide!

It all came about with Erika, my old boss.  As you may remember, she is Swedish.  Well, a friend of a friend of her's was working for a luxury tour company and was planning an all-out weekend tour of the Basque Country for his high-end clients.  Included in the trip was a pintxo tour led by someone who lives and eats (haha) in San Sebastian.  When there was tons of interest in the trip, Erika realized she and the Swedish guide couldn't handle the group of 30 on thier own and asked me to lead a group too so we would each have a manageable 10-person pintxo party.  I happily agreed.

Erika had planned the route out beforehand and when I arrived basically had done all the work - I just needed to guide my people to a bar and order the pintxos and enjoy!  Seeing as I didn't speak Swedish, all of the youngest tourists were with me.  While basically every Swede I know speaks perfect English, we figured the younger ones (30s & 40s) would be more apt to feel comfortable eating and drinking in my language.

At first the tour was a bit awkward because everyone was with thier couple and only talking amogst themselves, but soon after we headed out some couples started asking me questions about the city, how I came to live here, what a regular weekend is like, etc.  While big-money-makers, the Swedes were all very sweet and interested in my regular-person life.  A bit weird though - they had all dressed like they were going to a fancy theater show (black dresses, ties, etc) while I sported my regular jeans and boots.  Boots or heels, we equally enjoyed the pintxos and pintxo bar hopping.  In Basque bar crawling from bar to bar is called poteo, so essentially we did what is called here - pintxo poteo.

At the first bar, we enjoyed a glass of red wine from the Ribera del Duero region of Spain.  Funny enough - this is the first wine I had when Joseba and I were on our second date.  Erika had selected some of the best pintxos from each bar and made a 'mini-menu' for ths Swedes to choose from (she obviously had translated it to Swedish too).  Each person was able to pick 2 pintxos from the list to enjoy at each bar.  At this bar, Viento Sur (South wind), I took advantage of the free pintxos to enjoy some of the tasty selections at this expensive bar.  First was the carrillera con bechamel y alubias - which roughly would be called a pork neck with white sauce and white navy beans.  I know, a pig neck sounds disgusting but it is really a hit of a pintxo in this area.  I often order it when I go pintxo poteoing with my friends, so don't be grossed out.  For my second pintxo I selected some more meat when I ordered the brick de ternera con curry y salsa agridulce - some veal with 2 dipping sauces, curry and sweet and sour.  The Swedes had eaten at a 4-star Michelin restaurant that afternoon called Arzak.  Listed as the 8th best restaurant in the world, they paid something around $300 for thier lunch, and I was surprised that they even had stomach room left to eat pintxos, but they were happiily chomping away until I shuffled us out the door an onto the next bar.

At Hidalgo 56 Bar, the selected wine was a Manzanilla - which is more a less a sherry as a wine.  I don't like it, but being the guide ordered it anyways.  Turns out none of them liked it either, so we quickly ate our pintxos (me a shrimp kebab wrapped in goat cheese and bacon with pieces of pinapple) and headed off to the 3rd bar, braving the sprinkling rain.

Bergara, the next stop, is a famous Donostia pintxo bar because it seems every year they win something from the Pintxo Txapelketa - the annual pintxo competition.  One year they even won Txapelduna - first prize for one of thier pintxos.  Directly from Basque, txapel means 'hat' and duna means 'the one with'.  So Txapelduna would be the 'one with the hat' - the champion.  Here, trophies aren't given for winning, Basque boinas, a type of beret hat are the coveted prize gear.  Throughout the night, the Swedes were eagerly asking how to say things in Spanish, how to order thier own pintxos, how to say excuse me, etc.  While I know all of these answers, I also now can say I know a lot of the answers in Basque.  Seeing as most of them had already travelled to Spain, I wanted to try and give them a different experience and teach them these sentences in Basque - seeing as they WERE in the Basque Country.  They were delighted to learn how to say 'another one' when they wanted a new drink - beste bat.  Or when we were in a packed bar, how to politely push by people by saying barkatu, excuse me.  I also tried to give them a brief understanding of the Basque's desire to be independant and the rich culture that I get to see on a daily basis.  I guess being married to a Basque man, I have become a bit biased, and really wanted them to remember they were not (as many signs hanging around town proclaim) in France or Spain, but the Basque Country.  They were like kids hungry for knowledge and were excited to learn about this independance struggle and the gems of the Basque Country.  Not only did they gobble down what I was saying but at this bar we also tried a random pintxo from the bar (they were so excited to be able to just grab it from the bar and take it to thier table) and some mushroom risotto to go with our Txakoli, a young Basque white wine.

For our last bar we stopped of at Andra Mari, the Basque way of saying Our Lady Mary.  We lucked out with it being our last bar because they had reserved an entire table for us - much needed after almost 3 hours of eating.  Grilled foie gras was the first pintxo we all ordered - a Basque staple.  Almost every bar offers this pintxo, and while I am not the biggest foie fan, this was delectible.  For a second pintxo I selected a piece of toast topped with smoked tuna and grilled tomatoes to go with our wine from Valencia (in the SE of Spain).  By this time the Swedes were happily intoxicated and with full bellies.  After wining and dining for the last few hours, I was sad to see them go, but so happy I had gotten the chance to lead such a tour.  Now, if only I could do this as my job everyday...


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