The recent bank holiday weekend was an exciting one for me – it was my birthday! It wasn’t just any birthday either, but the big (and ever so slightly scary) 3-0! Last year, I had an incredible birthday weekend visiting friends in The Hague, and so I felt that I had to go some to beat that experience for this milestone life event. It took me a while to decide how I wanted to celebrate in a way that suited me as I’m generally not a huge party person. Then the idea dawned and I knew exactly what to do! San Sebastián in the Basque region of Spain felt like the perfect place to spend a romantic long weekend with Mark relaxing on the beach, going for scenic walks, and eating pintxos!
Pintxos (pronounced a bit like pin-choss) is the local answer to tapas with pintxos bars lining the alleys of the old town. Each bar has its own specialty and the idea is to have one or two pintxos in each place before moving on to another. Bar counters are lined with stunning displays of food so it’s not always easy to restrain yourself, but I loved the laid back approach and taking our time working our way around.
The local beverage to accompany pintxos is txakoli (pronounced a bit like cha-kuh-lee), a very dry and slightly sparkling white wine that goes particularly well with the fish options. The wine is poured from a height to encourage the bubbles which was quite fun. Otherwise, we tended to opt for a good old Rioja and the sangria was plentiful too!
La Cuchara de San Telmo
We made a beeline for this tiny pintxos institution as they opened and before they got so busy people could barely make it through the door. There were a few tables outside that filled up quickly too and we were keen to get inside anyway as the weather was chilly and a bit wet on that particular evening. It was probably to our advantage as it could have been even busier otherwise! We ordered their famous suckling pig which was crispy on the outside but had a succulent and juicy centre. We also ended up trying the “pressed and crunchy pork ear” thanks to a bit of a translation fail, but it turned out to be pretty tasty too. It was a relief really as we’ve not been super keen on pig’s ear when we’ve tried it before.
Address: La Cuchara de San Telmo
Santa Korda Kalea, 4, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
The signature dish at Borda Berri has to be the veal cheek slow-cooked in red wine for 6+ hours leaving it rich and pull-apart tender. We also made sure we tried the puntalette (an orzo-like rice-shaped pasta) “risotto” with Idiazábal, a local Basque sheep’s cheese. The pasta was cooked to perfection and the sauce was creamy with a full cheese flavour.
Address: Borda Berri
Fermin Calbeton Kalea, 12, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
The humble anchovy – a celebrated local product that features in almost every pintxos bar, but none so much as Bar Txepetxa who specialise in these salty morsels. I loved the combination of anchovies with fresh peppers or stewed Mediterranean vegetables atop fresh bread. Another more lavish option was the pintxos of bread topped with crab salad with an anchovy and sardine draped over the top.
Address: Bar Txepetxa
Arrandegi Kalea, 5, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
The bar was covered with a tempting and colourful selection of pintxos – especially seafood, the highlight being the cream of sea urchin served in a black spiked sea urchin shell and topped with fish roe and crispy pieces.
31 de Agosto Kalea, 23, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
Txuleta is the local aged steak and another regular on the local menus, but we thought where better to try txuleta than at its namesake? Served medium-rare on a skewer and resting on a bed of salty fries, this was some lip-smackingly delicious steak! The cows are bred for far longer than normal – sometimes up to 18 years – giving the meat a hearty depth of flavour.
De la Trinidad Plaza, 2, 20003 Donostia, Gipuzkoa, Spain
There were a number of other pintxos bars that I read about but we didn’t get a chance to try. Ganbara, where the pintxos are famously piled high over the bar, apparently do a delicious mushroom and egg dish. Bar Nestor serves only a few options, but the steak is legendary and if you arrive early (like super early) you might get to try one of the rare tortillas. Bergara is a little out of the old town and so probably doesn’t feature on most people’s pintxos lists, but I read that their mushroom pintxos is pretty special as well.
Have you been to San Sebastián? What was your favourite pintxos experience? Comment below!