If you’ve not been to San Sebastian, Spain then you need to go and book your ticket right now. Stop reading this immediately and sort out your flights. Done? Good.
So why are you going? Well San Sebastian is the closest thing that Europe has to Rio. Long, golden, sandy beaches which are watched from up high by a huge statue of Christ? Check. Charming old streets and churches? Check. Mountainous backdrop? Check. It’s got the works, but most importantly, it has some of the world’s best food. The city boasts 3 restaurants that each hold 3 michelin stars. Not half bad for a place with a population of 186,000…
If the prospect of a 100 Euro meal isn’t getting you excited, the great news is that to eat well in San Sebastian you won’t need to re-mortgage your house and take granny out of the care home. A passion for quality food permeates through every aspect of the city and incredible food is available in every bar in town in the form of Pintxos. Pintxos (Peen-chos), literally meaning ‘spiked’, are Basque bar snacks and take it from me, they put Gary Lineker and his potato snacks to shame. Traditionally these consist of small slices of bread loaded up with delicious ingredients secured in place with a toothpick. Arranged along the bar, everywhere in town boastfully displays their offerings – customers need only ask for a plate and get tucked in. It’s the ultimate in eating with your eyes – this vast array of delectable morsels spread out before you – and for a food pervert like me I was in ecstasy.
As good as these are, many of the best pintxos have evolved and strayed away from the normal on-the-bar display. In a number of places, dotted around the bar you will find small menus featuring hot pintxos which are, are without a doubt, some of the world’s best small plates of food.
I can’t express the excitement and anticipation of bar hopping around town, selecting the best pintxos in the bar to accompany a big oaky Rioja, and then moving on to the next place to raid their speciality dish. I was running around town like a madman, drunk on food and red wine and scouting out the very best food that San Sebastian could offer. Below are some of the very best pintxos which you simply must eat when you are there. My photos fail to do the food justice, but hopefully give you a taster of just how fantastic eating with your eyes in San Sebastian can be.
If you’re only in town for one night and are overwhelmed by the choice on offer, I can safely point you in the direction of La Cuchara de San Telmo, and Borda Berri. Both do sublime hot pintxos – you simply can’t go wrong!
Veal Cheeks – The speciality dish and star of the show had to be the veal cheek slow cooked in Rioja served with hummus. The tiniest touch with a fork and the meat fell apart into wonderfully rich flakes with not a bit of fat in sight. Soft, delicious and packed with flavour, we couldn’t help ourselves and came back to eat this 3 nights running…
Huge scallops wrapped in iberico bacon. Sweet, soft, delicate scallops were cooked on a high heat and served with iberico bacon. Divine.
Slow roasted Suckling Pig, its crispy skin flecked with salt crystals, the meat tender and falling apart on the fork. This is what pulled pork dreams of.
One of the most memorable dishes from Borda Berri was the Squid Paella. Fresh squid cooked until tender and mixed into paella rice loaded with smoked paprika to give it a big smokey flavour hit. There was a little sweetness in there too which balanced out the taste of the sea perfectly; this was a brilliant dish.
Aratjo serves just 3 dishes which the locals devour en masse: Muscles, calamari, and potatoes. If I’m honest the potatoes could do with some work but the muscles are to die for. Served with a very smooth, slightly spicy, garlicy tomato sauce this was a bold flavour pairing that went down a storm. The calamari, floured and fried, was crisp and soft and all the tastier for not having to battle with the taste of batter.
At La Cepa, we devoured Black pudding with peppery olive oil and silky piquillo peppers. The black pudding was fried, crispy on the outside and soft in the middle, and dressed in a peppery olive oil and silky piquillo peppers. Again, big bold flavours partnered to perfection.
Bread with anchovies, salsa, and peppers. They don’t mess around with anchovies in Spain. Plump anchovies are bursting with flavour, a far cry from the limp, salty corpses we find on pizzas in the UK. This simple pintxo of fresh bread, a soft layer of piquillo pepper, fresh anchovy fillets topped with a salsa of tomato and yellow pepper and a hint of red wine vinegar was perfectly balanced. This is some sophisticated bar snack.
And finally, this post would be incomplete without Iberico…
Iberico ham is ubiquitous in Spain for reasons that are clear at the first mouthful. The strong umami hit of that rich, all enveloping cured meat is wonderful. Every bar in town serves Iberico ham pintxos – rest assured it’s always going to deliver.
What are you waiting for!? San Sebastian and it’s Pintxos await!