The second stop on my Basque trip was the adorable town of San Sebastian. I must admit, I fully understand where its popularity comes from, why so many people head this way, and why there may be a slight pinch of neighbourly jealousy towards this place on the part of Bilbao.
I spent four wonderful days here and the very second day I found myself doing another food tour. Surprise, surprise. This time I wasn’t alone – our merry company consisted of me, a French/Hungarian girl my age, and a British family of five (kids between 10 and 19). Our guide, Keith, is from Alabama, USA. Why would I book this tour you may wonder. Where’s the local? But in fact, Keith met his Basque wife some 13 years ago or so, in the Amazon forest and they ended up living in San Sebastian. And what a family he married into – his father-in-law’s business was supplying local restaurants for years and everyone knew him. “So in order to introduce me to his friends, he took me to their restaurants,” said Keith. We were in good hands.
Keith revealed to us that in fact, pintxo time in the Basque country is at around 12:00 until around 13:30. That’s when the locals eat pintxos, with a couple of drinks, never everything in one single place. After which they go and have lunch. Between 13:30 and 16:00. Hard life. 🙂
This was going to be a shorter tour, compared to the one in Bilbao. Five pintxos and a drink with each (more on that later…). First stop was a pintxo bar called Txepetxa – anchovy paradise.
We had the crema centollo.
Doesn’t look like much but it was amazing. Paired with verdejo wine. Very busy place and according to the pictures on the walls, visited by a lot of celebrities throughout the years. My eyes linger on a big photo with Ethan Hawke. Among others.
Then we stopped at one very special store. With more than one special ham. Keith was passionately explaining some of the techniques behind curing pork.
In we go, and my beloved Jamon de bellota is right there on the counter. The vendor was very nice and gave each of us a piece. A piece of divinity.
Nice detail – the cups under each piece of ham. Collecting shiny fat dripping from the meat. Yummy!
Our third stop was at a place called Portaletas; and it was once again time for a Gilda!
Slightly differently looking, bigger peppers, smaller fish, but still a delicious combination.
In this bar, we were clued in on the scam of baby eels.
Exotic, you may think? Normally, yes. But, as Keith nicely put it, the ones served around here are squeezed through the same tube where the crab paste comes from. What the hell? So… not real eel! Real ones apparently cost between 500 and 1000 EUR per kg – no way this much on a piece of bread can cost only 3 EUR…
On to more pleasant topics. Like the next restaurant we stopped at – Casa Vergara. Here we came for some blood pudding. Apparently a very popular pintxo made with pork blood, rice and topped with a pepper. It was good. Iron is good for you anyway!
Here we drank a young Rioja red wine – spectacular. Conclusion – the wine was definitely better than the pintxo.
I cannot remember the name of the next place but we definitely increased the complexity levels here. The pintxo was a very intense mix of flavours – jamon, blue cheese and an anchovy. The taste made even more intense with cider.
I told myself, give cider another chance. But to no avail. Sorry Basque Country, I have to reject cider altogether. On the bright side, not being a fan of blue cheese, I actually enjoyed this bite.
Last stop, sharing a ración of mushrooms. Supposedly special but honestly, I dont’ remember why. By that time, we, the adults in our tourist group, were all drunk. And to top things up, we had rosé wine. A pretty intense one at that.
Merry company, nice people, more alcohol than food. Very good alcohol. I had a great time but this pintxo craze is… crazy. To be honest, the best food I had in San Sebastian was a cheese mousse with caramel as part of a “menu del dia” in a cute little restaurant in the old town which somehow managed to protect itself from the pintxo craze.
I guess this part of the world deserves another, more educated visit. But next time I go, I am going to a Michelin star restaurant!
In the meantime, I can reminisce sceneries like this one – and there were plenty!