After walking the whole Camino de Santiago or some stages, there is nothing better than taking a deserved break in a green, peaceful city on the coast surrounded by mountains, with breathtaking views and excellent food. This ‘paradise’ is called San Sebastian, in the Basque country. This kind of trips is one of the things that make the Camino an experience not just a pilgrimage. This is the way of ‘walking’ chosen by the Peregrino Moderno.
Aside from the splendor of its Concha beach, San Sebastian is believed to be the culinary capital of Spain as it has the most Michelin stars per capita in the world. What really makes it a special place for foodies, however, is its lively ‘Pintxo’ culture.
‘Pintxos’, what are they? Pintxos were originally a slice of baguette bread piled high with food of any kind. To hold it in a place, in a cocktail stick, or ‘pintxo’ as used. But that traditional idea has evolved until becoming today’s miniature haute cuisine, flavours elaborated and concentrated into tine, mouth-watering experiences: from the traditional Gilda to leek and prawns in brick pastry, for example, passing through myriad flavours not to be missed on the way.
“I still remember the very first time I went for pintxos in San Sebastián, and how I was asked to count my toothpicks when I had finished my fill of the delicious cold pintxos displayed on the top of the bar. I was surprised how easily these barmen trusted the crowd to be honest enough to pay for the exact amount ofthis city. Many bars have windowsills especially designed to leave your glasses on so people can have their drink and delicious bite both inside and outside the bar”, says Emmie Declerck, who admits to be in love with San Sebastian and tells more details about the ‘Basque tapas’ experience in foodsfromspain.com (ICEX).
Where to eat the best ‘pintxos’? As she describes the pintxo culture especially thrives in the heart of the city, the Parte Vieja or Old town, where one bar leads to another. As you walk down the pedestrian streets of this charming barrio, you can easily glimpse inside the bars. In most of them you will spot an abundance of colourful cold pintxos on the bar counter. It soon makes you understand the difference between these Basque pintxos and Spanish tapas. With pintxos, it is not only about food and flavour but also about presentation. The Basques like to add colour to their bite-sized delicacies, finishing off a bread-pintxo with a beautiful red pepper on top or adding a sprinkling of parsley.
You can find a pintxo-bar in every single corner of the Parte Vieja, but two of the most popular streets are in calle 31 de Agosto and calle Fermin Calbeton. Our suggestions along the first street (31 de Agosto) are the following bars: La Cepa, Casa Gandarias, La Cuchara de San Telmo and La Viña. And along the Fermin Calbeton street, the must visit pintxo-bars are: Goiz Argi (here it is very popular to eat Brocheta de gambas with a Txakoli wine), Borda Berri (our recommendation would be Idiazabal and Hongos risotto) and Beti Jai berria. This last bar was renewed and now it is more sophisticated.
I would like to recommend the Gorriti bar, in San Juan street, 3 and Paco Bueno, in calle Mayor, 6. Both they are old and traditional bars. Everybody in San Sebastian knows these genuine pintxo-bars. Perhaps, they are not the most sophisticated, but their pintxos are tasty and the staff is amazing!
The Tourism Office in San Sebastian offers a Pintxo guided tour as well. If you like the idea, you can come over to the office in the Boulevard, in Old Town. The price of the tour is 18 euros and it last about two hours. The highlights of the route are La Bretxa market, Fermin Calbeton st. Constitucion square, San Vicente church, 31 de Agosto st, Basilica of Santa Maria, Mayor st. and Port.
Read more about Basque cuisine here.