Pintxos in Gros: Bites of Happiness

What Are Pintxos?

Pintxos provide an exciting opportunity to experience Basque culture. But who offers pintxos? What are they? A pintxo is a class of dishes that are very small – sometimes bite-sized – and often offered in bars. Pintxos have become a part of Basque culture and contributed to the practice of bar hopping. The word pintxo roughly translates to toothpick, referring to how the early pintxos were served with toothpicks. An early pintxo, the gilda, was formed in the mid-1900s in the bars of San Sebastian. Consisting of peppers, anchovies, and olives skewered by a toothpick, the gilda rose in popularity after it was compared to the film Gilda, which was famous at the time. Both the dish and the titular character, Gilda, were considered salty and spicy. As other pintxos formed in Spanish bars, people began bar hopping.

The Gilda.

When bar hopping, a group of people spend the afternoon or night eating and drinking, moveing on to another bar for each pintxo and drink combo. The main purpose of pintxo-eating is not to fill one’s stomach (although that will happen after a few bars), but rather to socialize. The people of San Sebastian are very communal; couples and even whole families often roam the streets together to shop, play, or eat. As such, visiting a set of bars will take several hours as everyone in the group eats their pintxos and talks together. A pintxo-eating trip is very social.

Traditional Pintxos

One of the classic pintxos is the aforementioned gilda, but there are several other pintxos typically found in bars. One such pintxo is the croquetta. Eaten by hand, the croquetta is a delicate, deepfried ball of potato puree and meat. Slightly crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside, the croquetta is a must-have for any pintxo newcomers.

A Row of Fresh Croquettas.

Another pintxo, potato salad, is not exclusive to pintxos. However, I have to mention it because the potato salad here is made with a spin. Tuna is added to the salad, turning it into a hybrid between potato salad and tuna salad. Having eaten many potato salads, I’d say this potato pintxo is quite tasty. The tuna elevates it beyond the average potato salad, and I plan to start adding tuna to the salads I make myself.

Potato Salad Pintxo.

Pintxos with a Twist

The pintxo scene is constantly evolving, and as new bars open and aspiring chefs try to make their own mark on pintxo history, exciting new pintxos arise. Some of these are new takes on classic pintxos, while others are unique to the pintxo platter. One of the pintxos I tried in Gros was a gilda-themed sushi. The thin seaweed casing of of the gilda-sushi held a slice of pepper nestled in rice. Olive- and anchovy-flavored caviar balls rested on top of the roll alongside a dollop of mild wasabi.Although it looked quite different from the outside, the gilda-sushi tasted almost exactly like a gilda.

Gilda…with a Twist!

The Most Fun Pintxo

I had a lot of fun trying out new foods, but the one I had the most fun with was squid in it’s own ink. Most of the squid and ink pintxos I heard of involved serving squid in an ink sauce, but the pintxo I had was fried. It had a beautiful crunchy exterior and a gooey inside. This pintxo was very similar to the croquettas, but with a slightly more bready interior. I quite enjoyed this dish, and would rate it second to only the potato salad (which was my favorite pintxo). Little pieces of squid were embedded in the inside, and had a similar chewy, meaty texture to the ham in the croquettas. It was fun to eat as well; I had a good laugh with the other kids when we realized my mouth had turned black from the ink. It didn’t stain, though, and a few seconds after finishing the dish, there was no black in sight. However, the same may not be said for clothes; although this is not a messy dish to eat, keep it away from anything that could be stained.

Squid Ball in Ink. I almost forgot to take a picture!

The Desserts

No great outing is complete without desserts! I tried a set of three desserts: blue cheese, cheesecake, and brownie. The brownie was warm and chocolatey, and the cheesecake was packed with cheesy flavor. The blue cheese was also a big hit among the group, and we left only crumbs of all the desserts on our plates. The desserts were a great end to the tour, and I can assure that they tasted as good as they looked.


Final Thoughts

A pintxo trip is a great way to spend time with foodie friends. There are countless bars in San Sebastian, and many are right next to each other. Pintxos encompass a wide variety of foods, so there’s something for everyone. If you feel like trying something new, have a pig’s foot or a squid dish. If you want something more classic, choose a gilda or a croquetta. At the end, gather around some tasty cheesecakes, or venture just past the bars and get some of San Sebastian’s delicious gelato.