When my husband and I landed in San Sebastian, Spain (Donostia to locals), we immediately set out to discover the Basque-based gastronomic empire that lay before us. Refusing to let our inevitable jet lag effect our appetites, we headed straight for San Sebastian's Parte Vieja (Old Part- the formal center of the city) to partake in a traditional pintxos crawl (an event known as txikiteo). Pintxos (also referred to as pinchos- elsewhere known as tapas) crawls are a ritual and an art in San Sebastian- going too early or too late, lingering too long, or eating too much at one spot can ruin the experience.
Our pockets lined with Euros, we zigzagged through Parte Vieja's narrow cobblestone streets seeking out the best pintxos bars. At each densely packed stop we were met by bar tops piled high with plate upon plate of bite-sized fare. Intimidated by the unknown, but emboldened with each sip of txakolí (a local fizzy white wine with a tart, fresh taste) we dug into terrines topped with mayonnaise, polpo (octopus), marinated anchovies, miniature Jabugo ham and cheese sandwiches, toothpick skewered morcilla (blood sausage), egg tortillas, and olives with spicy peppers, among other creations. At 1.5 to 3 Euros each, overindulgence would have been easy, but in following Basque tradition our txikiteo served as a prelude (albeit a very calorie-laden, long prelude) to our late night dinner.
Standouts- La Cepa for its Jabugo ham sandwiches, salt cod and pepper tortilla, and historical charm- who doesn't love a few hams hanging from the ceiling (if it were socially appropriate we would have camped out there all night); Fuego Negro for its modern atmosphere and beautifully arranged pintxos (definitely not a traditional take on pinxtos); Bar Txepetxa for its fish and award-winning anchovies (anchovies are not my first choice- but I didn't mind eating one or two of these); and Martinez for its delicious croquetas.
A view of Agosto Street in San Sebastian's Parte Vieja
Nearly empty plates in a crowded La Cepa
Hard-boiled eggs with ham, mayonnaise, cheese, prawns and olives (too much going on for me- so I skipped this one altogether)
Bread with red peppers, hard-boiled eggs and anchovies
Bread with anchovies, minced onions and peppers, and parsley
Bread with ham and tomatos
The bartenders and hanging meat in La Cepa
Miniature ham and cheese sandwiches
Olives, peppers, and anchovies skewered with a toothpick
Bread, terrines, and a jazzed up dollop of mayonnaise
Croquetas next to a plate of polpo, onions, and peppers
Chunks of bread topped with a cod, mayonnaise, and onion combo, more mayonnaise, and prawns
Plates on the bar at Martinez- in the forefront are toothpicks holding sausage, peppers, anchovies and olives
The proper way to pour txakolí- by the end of our San Sebastian leg- my husband got to be an expert at pouring, and I got to be an expert at drinking
Fried anchovies and morcilla with peppers and parsley
Anchovies marinating in onions, peppers and olive oil
The crowded counter at Martinez