Guided by an all-knowing pintxo expert, five of my peers and I weaved our way through foot traffic in and out of bars, up and down streets of San Sebastian’s parte vieja, as we enjoyed endless bites of bliss. Beginning our tour we clinked our glasses filled with txakoli, sipping the Basque wine alongside the first pintxo ever created: the Gilda. The pintxo was a mouthful of peppers, olive, and anchovy. A mix that surprisingly harmonized individual flavors I dislike into something I quite enjoyed. While my classmates cringed at the salty taste and some even had trouble forcing it down, I savored the burst of flavors that were the start to a day of delicious food and a lesson on Basque culture.
Our next bite consisted of potatoes, egg, and sweet peppers as we sank our teeth into the best tortilla around. Reserved for us by our professor with connections, we all enjoyed this pintxo. This perfectly balanced pintxo would later be my peers go to breakfast and even lunch dish as they knew it was always good even if it wasn’t as tasty as the one we had reserved special for us at Bar Nestor. Only one pintxo bar in and my peers and I felt as though we had already had our best bite – our guide Julian kept us on our toes with steak cooked to perfection, scallops in a unforgettable garlic sauce, beef cheek soft enough to cut with the slight pressure of the side of your fork, buttery croissants filled with salty ham, and many more dishes that all fight for the title of our best bites.
As we filled our stomachs with delectable dishes, we found ourselves stepping over napkins, used toothpicks, and even prawn tails. A behavior that would no doubt be considered rude back home confused most of us at first. Julian, however, explained that the disposal a lot of napkins shows the popularity of the pintxo bar and brings in more customers. At first this seems as just another hassle for staff of the bar to clean up before closing but really it is a unique Basque behavior as a sort of way to help the bar out, show appreciation, and help them achieve more business. Who would have known that leaving trash on the floor would ever be a good thing ?
While yes our tour was focused on food, I began to watch the behavior of the most familiar Basque I know – Julian. I am thankful to have had Julian as a professor my first semester of college and have learned that he is simply a happy and friendly guy. While on the tour I noticed him explaining to several staff at the pintxo bars that we were his students and that we were here to try the best of the best. Not only was he proud to introduce himself as our professor but he was also proud to introduce us as his students which left us smiling and waving at the men and women about to serve us our pintxos. The open and friendly behavior did not stop there as Julian often times bumped into men and women he recognized or even didn’t recognize to tell them about the tour he was giving us and to even make recommendations for others. At one point we even bumped into a couple at a bar that he had recommended to them – they enjoyed a serving of cheesecake together and expressed their appreciation for his recommendation before they headed out.
During this tour I tried my best to mirror the same openness I had seen in not only his but other Basque residents behaviors. Although I am in beginners Spanish and am rarely feeling confident to try my Spanish outside of the classroom, I tried my hardest to reach out to each student in our group and learn about them and their interests as my time continues in San Sebastián. As my goal during this trip is to not just simply make friends but more importantly: to make everyone feel welcome. Pleased with myself after the first night here in the city, a peer and I managed to invite classmates along to enjoy a night on the beach together with the rest of the UML group. This pintxo tour, however, challenged me in a different way. I had to be open to trying new things.
Although my family knows me to be a foodie, they also know me to be an extremely picky eater. Some days just the smell of certain foods will repulse me, and I’ll end up searching for dinner on my own. Over time, I’ve managed to narrow my diet. While I oftentimes choke down dinners I no longer enjoy at home (If you’re reading this, I’m sorry, mom. You’re a great cook. The best I’ve ever known) and dinners at friends’ houses, I find it hard to reject someone’s offering of food even though I still do. Going into our pintxo tour, I promised myself to not say no to anything. It had seemed that my peers were also living by this rule on our tour as we hopped from bar to bar, taking all that was offered. It was this sort of openness that brought not only me and my peers together with each other but also made us feel connected to Basque culture. As we are still just starting out our first week here in the breathtaking San Sebastián, we are merely tourist among native Basques but together we are finding authenticity all over the streets of the city, snatching it up and being a part of something we’ll never forget as long as we live.