In the impressive culinary culture of Spain, tapas have a well-deserved seat of honor. A tapa is a small dish, never more than two or three bites, a delicate appetizer that, in Spain is usually eaten before main courses, always among friends. In the Basque Country, north of the peninsula, tapas are known as pinchos or pintxos, and here they reach their maximum exquisiteness.
Lovers of these little culinary delicacies will find their paradise in San Sebastián, the main city of the Guipúzcoa province. In order to taste them, one must head to the old town, at the foothills of mount Urgull. There, on 31 de Agosto and Pescadería streets, residents and tourists find the greatest number of pubs where the best pinchos are offered.
A tapa is a small dish, never more than two or three bites, a delicate appetizer that, in Spain is usually eaten before main courses, always among friends.
A good way to start a route of pinchos in San Sebastián is beginning at restaurant Gandarias, on 31 de Agosto Street. The ideal here is to have a good Rioja made from tempranillo grapes, served with some rock-star tapas such as cod croquettes, mushroom tart with ham and shrimp, or peppers stuffed with txangurro (shredded crab, really tasty.)
Further down the same street, there’s the freewheeling A Fuego Negro, where tapas are served with wines such as the white Txakolí of Getaria, a nearby town famous for these fresh, fruity and slightly sparkling wines. You shouldn’t miss the bonito and watermelon tartar with grated egg yolk, or its famous black rabas—breaded squid that turn black from the squid ink, which adds a powerful and pleasant taste.
[more-links]At 5 Pescadería Street, we shall find Txepetxa, where anchovies are king and are served with sea urchin. You also shouldn’t miss the “Gilda”—anchovies with olives and hot chili peppers, a tapa born in San Sebastián pubs to honor actress Rita Hayworth, who was of Spanish descent, and her most famous film role.
At the pub Zeruko, located at 10 Pescadería, you can enjoy two of the most creative and rich pinchos of the area—the black-pudding and pistachio timbale and the smoked eel—dishes that could be in the menu of any Michelin-star restaurant of San Sebastián, like Arzak, Akelarre, Martín Berasategui or Mugaritz.
I could go on suggesting places to taste really satisfying pinchos or tapas, but instead I’ll just recommend traveling to this ancient city, regarded as one of the most beautiful of Northern Spain. When you get there, just follow the advice of any Donostiarra (as the residents of San Sebastián are called), for they’re kind people, always eager to advise the traveler, especially if it concerns gastronomy, since they have it in their blood and live it intensely and joyfully. ■