pintxos in euskal herria

2013 is the year of spain for david and i. rather than have one big holiday we’ve decided to try and fit in as many short jaunts to spain as possible, so we can get a sense of the country and eat vast amounts of delicious spanish food and learn more about their wine and other drinks!

our first trip, at the end of last month, saw us heading to bilbao and then moving onto san sebastian. both of these cities are in euskal herria, the name the basque people give to their own land, and both of which are a great place to encounter pintxos, the basque take on tapas.  san sebastian also has a reputation for fabulous michelin-starred cuisine.

our time in bilbao was initially focussed on the frank gehry designed bilbao guggenheim art museum (pictured above). we both loved the building and spent a very happy couple of hours exploring richard serra’s matter of time (pictured below). if you go, make sure you stomp your feet and shout as you weave in and out of the sculptures as several of them create wonderful echoes.

pintxos in basque country is about cruising around the city, moving from one pintxo restaurant/bar to another, trying out the specialities of each with a drink and then moving on.

kicking off in bilbao is actually a really good idea as the pintxo scene is much less intense/intimidating. the main thing to remember is, order a drink, look at the pintxos listed on boards or laid out on plates on the bar, order one or two (pointing is fine) and go from there.  if you want to order a second round of drinks or pintxos, that’s fine. moving on to somewhere new is also fine.

in bilbao we went to a couple of places in plaza nueva – sorginzulo and zuga, which we think were probably linked to each other. at the first place i particularly liked the toast topped with elvers (baby eels - at the front of the picture above) plus the more traditional toast with jamon; the dish behind was tuna with salad and a basil oil dressing. the dishes at zuga were less good but i discovered a combination that i ate in lots of places and really loved – olive, pickled chilli and anchovy.

the pintxos in san sebastian were available on a different scale. different restaurants had different specialities – we went to txepetxa, for example, which specialises in anchovy dishes. a fuego negro (which was absolutely packed – everyone was taking it in turns to reach the bar, order and eat) takes a modern, sometimes described as molecular approach.

one of our favourite places was bar zeruko, which also has a modern take and had the most elaborate and abundant display of savoury and sweet pintxos. here david particularly liked the pistachio-crusted morcilla. i liked their take on smoked fish where the cod (i think) was served on a small grill and smoked just before we ate it (you can see the plumes of smoke coming off the dish in the picture above).

as you can see, we ate a wide variety of food and in most cases it was excellent. it's also very affordable, not least because the wine and cava is so cheap compared to london (and uk) prices. this was a great way to start our year of spain.