Christmas pintxos in the Basque Country

A whole 20 days since my last post! I can’t quite believe it has taken me until christmas to catch up on my blogging. Needless to say, the food experiences haven’t slowed down in the least: after christmas markets and experiments in hungarian cooking, i tested out chocolate chip and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, magret de canard fume on focaccia with a touch of raifort mixed with creme fraiche, and discovered a website mapping out the city’s bakeries (!!!! – more on that soon…)

All that will have to be shared in good time though, because for now i just spent the day touring some of the world’s best tapas joints in San Sebastian, Spain. An unconventional Christmas eve, perhaps, but also one of the best I have had in recent memory!

As it happens, Spain doesn’t celebrate Christmas when and how I am used to. So instead of gorging ourselves on turkey, capon or roast ham, as per the northern American tradition(s), we set out for a walk around San Sebastian’s old town (la Parte Vieja) to taste test what the region is known for: its mostly fish and seafood based tapas, aka, pintxos.

[Brief pause for a historical interlude: the word “tapas” or tapa in its singular form, means lid in spanish. The term tapas was coined when one of Spain’s kings was in the region and was served a glass of wine with a plate of snacks served over it to keep the flies out of it. When the waiter returned, the king reportedly requested another glass with its “tapa” – and thus the tapas was born.]

What’s really to love about the food from around here? I would have to say it is the Basque insistence on top quality products served at their freshest. Rather than doused in sauces or left to marinate in complex mixes of spices, food here is prepared such that the true flavor of the ingredient is displayed at its tastiest. So a fresh strip of anchovy on a piece of baguette-like bread topped with a pinch of chopped onions and peppers with a drizzle of olive oil will send you to seventh heaven – as served at bar Martinez on Calle 31 de agosto.

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Other star players include the famous bacalao (codfish), lightly cooked calamari, fresh tuna, fried green or red small peppers, and of course, the jamon iberico. Most of these are just lightly brushed with olive oil, and layered in various combos on a piece of bread. The result? Two bites of mmmm mmmm so gooood…!

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Another discovery I’ve made is a beverage called mosto (must in English). Made of sweet grapes, but very light in flavor, this drink is perfect for quenching your thirst in any weather. Kind of like white wine, but without the acidity and the hangover. Best served with ice, a slice of lemon and an olive, or with a few sprigs of fresh mint instead of the olive.

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Of course, San Seb is also known for its high concentration of starred restaurants. I didn’t have time to try these out, sadly I would say, if it weren’t for the fact that the pintxos alone were totally titillating. Definitely look up these gastro gems though if you are in town!

the where how and when
This one is easy. Go to Calle 31 de agosto and try bar Martinez or A fuego negro for absolutely top notch. Gandarias taberna was also good, but a definite second place overall. Go between 1pm and 2:30pm for a stimulating lunch, and polish off the afternoon with a walk through the old town and along the gorgeously sculpted beach….

And it is a very merry Christmas indeed : )

Go on then- how was it for you??

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2 thoughts on “Christmas pintxos in the Basque Country

  1. Kate says:

    i love this post! and the historical note on tapas, never heard that before. and i seriously want to try mosto, sounds lovely.
    geneva awaits your return!

  2. Ernesto says:

    What a savoury and dead on post. Yum!

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