The Spanish Basque Country is known as one of the finest food locations in the world. Nowhere else will you find a similar number of Michelin-starred restaurants in close proximity to each other than within this region in the north of Spain.
But aside from fine dining, the perhaps most famous food in this part of Spain are Pintxos (pronounced pinchos), the regions equivalent to the well know and loved Spanish tapas.
There is a distinguished difference however. Tapas actually means any form of food, hot and cold, in small sizes. Pintxos on the other hand are prepared usually on top of a slice of bread; hold together with a toothpick (i.e. pinched together which is where the name comes from), and they are usually served cold.
Like tapas, Pintxos come in huge varieties though, from charcuterie to cheese, vegetables, meat and seafood. And some variations are pinched on a stick without the bread … so it is more the pinching together than the bread that makes the difference to tapas.
Head to any bar, and there will be usually plenty of Pintxos on offer, regardless of the time; and you will struggle to find some that are not really delicious.
However, if you decide to go on a Pintxos crawl, do it like the locals do. Do not go to one bar and have lots of Pintxos. Instead, pick only one or two (most bars have their own signature Pintxos) along with a glass of crisp white wine, then head off to the next bar.
Traditionally, Pintxos are eaten either for lunch or as a pre-dinner snack. Thus expect Pintxos bars to be the busiest during 1 pm to 3 pm and from around 6 pm to 8.30 pm.
There is no shortage of Pintxos bars (or just regular wine bars as all of them will offer Pintxos too) nowhere across the Basque Country; in fact even in the smallest towns you will likely find a couple.
If you are staying in Bilbao, there are a couple of place you should definitly put on your Pintxos list.
Where to find the best Pintxos in Bilbao?
One of the best places to go for Pintxos in Bilbao is without question Plaza Nueva close to the ‘seven streets’ in the city’s Casco Viejo (old town). There are twenty-plus bars clustered around the square all selling this scrumptious food.
Try the crab tempura at Gure-Toki which is excellent. Salt cod is another favourite in Bilbao and Casa Victor Montes is doing it perfectly. The bar has been around for decades and is something of an institution for locals.
Another great place to find lots of excellent Pintxos is the Ribera Food market, located at the edge of the old town right on the Nervion river. On the ground floor, there is a complete hall full of Pintxos stands that will make you come back for more.
One of the most iconic Pintxos in Bilbao is the ‘Gilda’ which consists of green olives, gherkins, Spanish pickled green chillies and some salted anchovies.
Quail egg feature on top of many Pintxos.
And sometimes simply on the delicious Joselito cured Spanish ham.
Not strictly counting as Pintxos, but the traditional Spanish ham sandwiches of course need to be part of any Pintxos crawl.
If you are a fan of Spanish tapas, you will love the Basque equvalent too. Have you tried Pintxos yet?