Top Dining Experience in Spain
On our journey through northern Spain, we stayed in the city of San Sebastian where I had one of my Top 5 favorite dining experiences. Our guide Jess started us out in a very narrow bar, Bar Paco Bueno, that was packed with locals enjoying pinchos (I’ll explain in a minute) and glasses of wine or beer.
There were seven of us and my youngest daughter was in a wheelchair. I didn’t see how we were going to fit inside but as soon as we approached the door, people started making room for us until we ended up at the back of the bar next to the kitchen where there was one large table.
Everyone else was standing 3 deep at the bar and there were a few small tables for 2 or 3 along the wall. When we reached the larger table in the back where three ladies were enjoying glasses of wine, they immediately got up to let us sit down. I can’t say enough how well the people we met throughout Spain treated us especially with our special situation.
We immediately ordered a bottle of local wine for about $11 American dollars and Jess started ordering a variety of pinchos for the group. She warned us we would not to get too settled since we were going to grab a quick bite and move on to the next Pinchos bar just around the corner.
What Is Pinchos?
Pinchos or pinxtos in Basque country is similar to tapas but different. Some might say tapas is to Catalan (Barcelona) as pinxtos is to the Basque region. From my point of view and I may be way off, they are different in other ways too.
When we ate tapas in Barcelona, the food was served as small servings on small plates. You might order a plate of grilled prawns where there would be 3, 4, or 5 prawns on the plate to share with the table.
In a pinchos bar, you’ll find an array of plates lining the bar with many of the same Spanish delicacies but the each plate will have an individual serving with a toothpick to hold the food together. For example, instead of a plate of prawns, you’ll get one prawn skewered to a piece of bread with a toothpick to keep it from sliding off the bread.
To order, you point to the foods you want and the crazy – busy bartender helps get your food together while serving wine while taking orders for any pinchos dishes that need to be prepared in the kitchen. There may be 20 to 30 people eating and drinking and talking and laughing in some of these very small bars so the scene gets chaotic.
The first pinchos bar we visited was packed when we arrived but while we were there, it cleared out by half and you could actually see the floor. It was covered with dozens of small, crumpled up cocktail napkins.
Our guide Jess told us the more napkins at the end of the night, the better. It means the bar served a lot of pinchos. By the time we left, the bar was refilled with new patrons who were probably coming from another pinchos bar around the corner so we had to work our way to get out.
What Does Pinchos Translate From?
The word pinchos comes from the Spanish verb – pinchar – which means to pierce. Now you can see why the toothpicks are so important. Jess told us that in some places, the waiter counts the number of toothpicks you’re in possession of at the end of the night to determine how much to charge you. We didn’t see that happen in any of the places we dined at but I was amazed how these bartenders could keep up with the incredible number of people ordering at the same time.
Some Examples of Pinchos
I’m guessing there are classic examples of pinchos that every restaurant and bar serve but again, it will depend on what town or city you are in. I did some research and found some examples of pinchos that looked really interesting.
Gilda – a combination of pickled anchovy, green peppers and olive oil. I read it may be known as the first pinchos ever and derives its name from the character Rita Hayworth played in the 1946 movie, Gilda. The pinchos is “salty, green and a bit hot.”
Spanish Omelet – we found this pinchos everywhere and is made with potatoes and onion.
For more examples of pinchos, check out this website – http://www.todopintxos.com/pintxos/pintxos.php
Some of My Pinchos Experiences
Pinchos made with bread, caramelized onions, goat cheese & mushroom
More From Spain
Be sure to check out my other posts about this incredible trip to Northern Spain: