Tuesday, March 20, 2012

All pintxos go to heaven

As many of you know, I am lucky to live in the city that claims to have the best pintxos in the world.  All over Spain you can find tapas, which are a small bar food snack served along with your drink.  However, pintxos are only found in the Basque Country and are essentially the Basque's take on the little dishes.  More or less the same in the sense that they are a tasty treat that accompanies your drink, pintxos and tapas don't have much more in common.

In the Basque Country you can pass any bar practically and see the entire counter filled with plate of pintxos ready to be plucked and devoured.  When you go into a bar, you can either ask or a plate for your pintxo or just grab one and start to chow down.  You order your drink and then on egin (enjoy in Euskera).  When you have licked the plate clean, you tell the bartender how many pintxos and drinks you had, he charges you and voila, you've just had a true Basque experience.  

When people come to visit, they always ask 'What is your favorite pintxo bar?' and I never had an answer for them.  Here, it is customary to kind of do a bar crawl, but for pintxos - a pintxo crawl I guess you could call it.  You go to a bar, get the pintxo you crave, wash it down with some delicious Rioja wine, Basque txakoli or a beer and then move on.  This actually has a name in Basque - txikiteo - the Euskera way to say 'pintxo crawl' and is widly popular.

Here in Donostia, we have multiple bars who have won the Txapelduna of pintxos (best pintxo competition) and proudly display the embroidered Basque boina (a special hat worn here) on thier wall for all to see.  While some pintxos are merely bar food and not too exciting (potato omelet, a bit of bread with Spanish ham on top, etc) there are some that really blow you out of the water.

Recently, with two couchsurfing guests we were showing around, we stopped into a modern pintxo bar for a change.  We had already eaten some pintxos at old-school type bars (all wood, pig legs hanging from the ceiling, scruffy men behind the bar, etc) and decided to change it up.  The bar, called Zeruko was much more than a pintxo bar though, it was a artistic pintxo display as well!  The bar was overflowing with plates upon plates of pintxos, most of which were barely recognizable.  In Euskera, Zeruko would translate to something like 'from the sky' or 'from the heavens' and these pintxos were exactly that.  

While gazing at all the lovely creations we made out a gel-like egg on bread, an exploding artichoke dusted with golden edible paint, a little package of something wrapped in zucchini slices, a croquette filled with mean on a skewer sticking out of a vase...crazy stuff!  A regular pintxo was not to be seen.  We ordered a smorgasbord of treats, not really even knowing what we were getting into and all were delicious in the end.  I tried a green onion that was sticking out of a crepe like base filled with pate and Spanish ham, our friends tried a sea porcupine cut in half and filled with a seafood puree, a breadstick boat in the shape of a fish with sea snakes and a fried egg on top and a little piece of bread topped with caviar, and Joseba had the best one - a pasty ball stuff with goat cheese and veggies with pine seeds and an edible flower!  What a table we had!

While not your run of the mill pintxos, these little works of art were equally delectible.  It is definitley a place I would recommend for anyone here visiting!  While incredibly modern and trendy, the people behind the bar were a regular friendly Basque family and there were napkins all over the ground.  Normally at pintxo bars you grab a little napkin from the holder, wipe your face and fingers and then just let go.  The more napkins on the ground the better - more people are eating there!

Little gems like this keep the city new and exciting, and I always love stumbling upon fun bars like this and risking my taste buds to try some odd looking pintxos. 


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