Our Pinxto Tasting Tour in the Old Part

First, what is a pinxto? A pinxto is a handful of local ingredients that blend together to make unique tastes and are held together by a toothpick. These tastey bar snacks have become a staple in the Basque Country and especially in San Sebastián. They are meant to be accompanied by a drink at the bar and it is customary here to have a pinxto and a drink at a bar and then move on to the next. 

     For those who are unfamiliar with San Sebastián, the “Old Part” is the heart of the city where some of the oldest buildings and streets are found. The Old Part also has the most bars and restaurants per person in all of Spain if not most of the world. Walking from pinxto bar to pinxto bar allows you to try endless combinations of local foods and drinks while also enjoying the beautiful architecture and art of the city.

Our pinxto tasting tour started off with a classic, definitely an oldie but in my classmates and my opinions, not a goodie. The “gilda” is the oldest pinxto combination in San Sebastián and it consists of pickled guindilla peppers, an olive and a salted anchovy. The gilda had an odd sour taste and slimy consistency, but you can’t go on a pinxto tasting tour and not try the oldest pinxto. The salted cod or bakalao pinxto made up for the gilda with a delicious taste and a soft consistency where the fish melts in your mouth. The presentation of this pinxto only made it that much better as it was presented with a bow made out of edible plants. This pinxto was my favorite of the day. We also tried pinxtos with fried shrimp as well as grilled shrimp and a scallop, both of which were very tastey. The thing that tied all of this together so beautifully was the Basque white wine, txakoli, that we decided to try with our pinxtos. Txakoli is a white wine that is immensely famous in Basque Country and is a can’t miss when visiting this beautiful city.

 In the next bar, we tried small portions of food that are called racciones. It is important to distinguish them from the pinxtos, however they are still Basque classics. Each one of these tasty dishes was extremely unique in its own way. From the more basic foods like risotto and tomato soup to the fish jowells and pig’s ear, the food never failed to surprise! The thought of eating either pig’s ear or fish jowells is completely repulsing, however these dishes are cooked masterfully and are completely delicious. 

 The next bar was an absolute show stopper. The bar itself was beautifully decorated and the food was the most interesting thus far. Along with some classics like cooked green peppers, and a cod and potato omelet, we tried squid in ink sauce. This is a rare, all black dish that is frightening at first glance but absolutely amazing to eat. Not only was the squid cooked to perfection, the squid ink sauce gave it an oniony-sweet that made the taste buds sing. Yet another dish that most people would not think to order because of its oddness that the Basques have perfected. There were also fried balls of beef mixed with peppers that were a little spicy for my pallet but applauded by my classmates. We were able to check off another classic with the bakalao omelet, which the locals call a tortilla. These tortillas are commonly made of eggs, potatoes, whatever the main ingredient is and a little bit of the Basque cooking magic.

Our second to last stop on our tour was by far the best overall. There was not a single dish that we tried that I didn’t love. We specifically sought this bar out to try their octopus, because it is what they are known for, and they did not disappoint. It was clear to the naked eye that we were eating the tentacles of the octopus, which would have been unsettling if it were not so delectable (you’ll see this is a common theme in this bar). Along with the octopus, we were coaxed into trying several other unique dishes that I simply never would have dared to order on my own. These included blood sausage, beef tongue, and baby pig. To think too deeply about these choices would be to turn one’s stomach but the truth is, each one was to die for. The baby pig was a tender pulled pork that was beautifully crisped on the top and bottom giving each bite a satisfying crunch. The taste resembled a sweet pulled pork that had a savory side to balance it out just enough. The beef tongue (yes literally the tong of a cow) had the tender but chewy texture of a well cooked steak and the flavor was a savory masterpiece. The Basques do not disguise these unique dishes, their transparency screams “don’t think, just eat” and it is true because once you take a bite, you’re in love. Finally, and most shocking for me, is the blood sausage. Served in a shape and look of a hockey puck, the sausage was crispy all around the outside and extremely soft on the inside. Blood sausage uses pork blood and fat to cook the sausage and it gives it a uniquely rich, decadent taste. I am someone who gags at the smell and taste of blood, so I was extremely hesitant to try this particular dish. Once I was convinced, I took a bite of the dish and could not believe how good it tasted. You cannot tell that it involves blood at all, it just tastes like a rich, deep flavored beef or pork and the crunch on the outside adds to the quality. The blood sausage ended up being among my top three favorite dishes of the day. 

Our final stop on the pinxto tour was to get Basque cheesecake, a treasured desert in San Sebastián. When we got there, the bar was swamped and they were also closing soon. The only reason we got to sit down was because Professor Z knew the owner personally and has been a loyal customer for years. Sadly, they had already run out of their famous cheesecake but they were able to save four chocolate mousse cakes just for us. They were delicious and a perfectly sweet way to end our tour and we vowed to come back for the cheesecake another day. 

     I have to say that I could not have been more surprised by this tasting tour. All of the food was presented simply, with emphasis on the individual, natural ingredients. Food is one of the things that Basque Country takes the most pride in and this tour made me realize why. They turned ingredients that are repulsive to think about into tasteful, elegant dishes and pinxtos. The craft and skill of each cook was obvious in every dish we tried and I cannot think of a better way to introduce yourself to the Basque Country than through the kitchen.