“Oh my god, I love anchovies!”, Meghan yelled just a few seconds after explicitly stating that she HATES anchovies. During those few seconds, Meghan had tried the infamous anchovy pintxos from Bar Txepetxa located in the Parte Vieja in San Sebastian. This was a reoccurring theme at each bar we had visited with Professor Zabalbeascoa as part of our Parte Vieja pintxos tour. Many of the dishes we had tried were unfamiliar and we were quite hesitant to try them. After stepping out of our comfort zones, we were rewarded with the delicious flavors of pureed cod, beef cheek, pig ear, and many more. We visited a total of five bars, each one with their own unique take on many of the dishes for which the Basque country is known.
The first bar, Bar Haizea, introduced us to the delicious flavors of salty olives combined with peppers and anchovies. Three ingredients that do well on their own, but they are not as powerful when put altogether. This pintxo combined the saltiness from the olives and anchovies with the slight sweetness of the peppers to create a perfect balance of flavor. The next pintxo, and probably my favorite from the whole tour, is called the “Brick.” I thought, as a pescatarian, that it might be difficult to find enjoyable food that fit with my dietary restrictions, but this dish of pureed cod and chives has made me think otherwise. It was very creamy on the inside and crispy on the outside with fried onions wrapped around the pintxo. The sweetness of the onions mixed with the creamy cod created flavors of which I have never known, and it is currently ranked as my top favorite pintxo. Going back to theme of trying new things, I ate my first ever scallop. I was a little intimidated by this ball of meat, but it turned out to be sweet, buttery, and chewy. It did not outrank the “Brick”, but it definitely made it to the top of the list.
We made our way to the next bar, Bar Borda Berri. With a little luck, we were able to snatch two outside tables. Typically, lines wrap around the Parte Vieja of people waiting to buy the made-to-order pintxos. Fortunately for us, the weather was beautiful, and everyone was at the beach. We tried a variety of pintxos here varying from beef cheeks to a ball of mozzarella with truffle. The mozzarella was flavorful and the tomato wrapped around it added a very nice touch. We also had Salmorejo, which tasted like gazpacho soup. By far, my favorite from this bar. And maybe from this whole trip. It was creamy and very delectable. Dipping the soft bread into the soup is the only acceptable way, in my opinion, to eat the dish. The beef cheek got a lot of praise from my friends, as well as the risotto which Laura describes as “out of this world!”
We eventually hit up Bar Txepetxa, which is a bar I will always remember. Several photos lined the wall of many celebrities who visited solely for the food. This bar is known for their remarkable anchovies. The dish contained an oily and soft piece of toast with a slice of anchovy on top and a variety of flavors to choose from. Staying on theme, I ordered the pintxo with fruit as the topping. Even though they did not have it, I was still surprised by my open mindedness to try new things. I, instead, ordered the salmon topping which turned out to be delicious. Oil was dripping down my hands as I bit into the crunchy bread of anchovy and salmon, and I did not care.
The last two bars we visited, Bar Ganbara and La Cuchara de San Telmo, got us to step even further out of our comfort zones. Bar Ganbara, known for its mouth-watering tiny croissant-filled-ham bites, served spider crab pastries. I never liked crab, but the dish looked too good to pass up. It tasted very fishy, but it was fresh and soft. I am happy to say I have now tried (and enjoyed) spider crab. La Cuchara de San Telmo had one of that tastiest tuna dishes I have ever had. Topped with a warm garlicky oil. It made it to the top of my list. Blood sausage was our last entrée of the day. And what a great entrée to end on! With our full stomachs, we mustered up the courage to have one more bite of the last pintxo. Some were very glad they did, others were not able to keep it in their mouths. Not because it was bad, but because they might have exploded from the amount of food.
Even though we were full, or “over nourished”, as Meghan would say, we still had room for dessert, of course. Basque cheesecake. Creamy, soft, and melts in your mouth. The best way to end our tour as we sat on the rocks overlooking the water and ate Basque’s greatest gift to us.