If you want a taste of true San Sebastian identity, dig in on the pintxos.
A form of tapas that is haute cuisine in miniature and mixes innovation with tradition, it fills the many bars of the Old Quarter of San Sebastian, where countertops overflow with food. At some point in the morning or afternoon, I make sure to get lost in a bar. This part of town hosts the largest concentration of bars per square meter in all of Spain.
I join the crowds who pop into one, eat a pintxo and drink a txakoli (local white wine), a zurito (small glass of beer) or a glass of red wine, before heading off to the next. The bars themselves, long and completely covered in textured, colorful assortments of food, are a sight to see.
“Can I get you something?” a waiter asks a group of French tourists who seem undecided. In the old days, clients would eat whatever they wanted and when done the waiter would count up all the little serving-sticks – each pintxo has one – to know what to charge. But today, in many bars, the waiters bring you the food; the result, no doubt, of dishonesty among some clientele.
“El Poteo” – as the act of going out to drink and eat pintxos in bars is known – is a tradition unaltered by time, a moment to relax with co-workers, friends or family. “In Donostian culture everything revolves around food,” says Susana Ribo, who’s joined me at the Koh Tao. “And not just because of the reputation of our chefs [San Sebastian boasts 16 Michelin stars, and four restaurants have three stars] but because all celebrations involve sitting down to eat. I remember my student years in Madrid, when we’d wake up at the dorms on a weekend morning. We Basques were always running around making sandwiches or cooking, always in the kitchen.
“How do you think the Gros neighborhood became revitalized? With the “PintxoPote,” a concept in which one day a week they give you a free pintxo with your glass of wine… the neighborhood has filled up with people and once again has a great atmosphere.” Susana smiles and raises her glass in a toast.
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