San Sebastian, Spain… The whimsical land of elastic-waistband jumpers, naked laughing babies, and the greatest food scene in the region.
Now that I’ve been here a full 48 hours, I’ve managed to eat what feels like 23 meals. I suddenly realized why everyone is parading about in zipperless, cotton adult onesies. Food is never eaten at a certain time, there is no lunch or dinner. You just eat. Constantly. But I must admit, a belly ache never felt so good.
I came to San Sebastian for sunny beaches and great food, plain and simple. I was thrilled to walk by the first cafe by the train station and see a window display of curing Iberico legs dangling in rows of sinful temptation. I’m sure most of you have heard the term “tapas,” referring to small, tasty dishes served in every bar or cafe in Spain; but have you heard of “pintxos”? This is a regional difference in style and service, but ultimately the same concept.
Pintxos are specific to the Northern region of Spain, and San Sebastian is known for having countless bars overflowing with the gorgeous platters where you fill your own empty plate with culinary masterpieces disguised as bar food. After having experienced this, I’m sure the next time a bartender back home offers me a bowl of shitty mixed nuts I’ll feel a strong inclination to smack the dish to the ground and spit on the scattered shells.
This is my kind of barhopping. You aren’t fighting crowds for a bucket of bud-heavies and a paper bowl of cheez-its; you’re squeezing through musky locals, sitting one butt cheek on a stool shouting “por favor senor!” just to get paws on a plate of steaming beef cheeks or freshly shaved iberico ham. This is well worth the agony of having to shoulder-shimmy through a sea of people.
I had to consciously squint to recover from the looney tune eye-pop and mental “A-Oooga!!” I experienced when I walked into the bar. Looking around the room in a hungry panic, I asked the tall Spanish man beside me if he spoke English. Thankfully he said yes and trained me in how to order, what to try first, and why it tastes better when you use your hands instead of utensils.
I give you…
Blood sausage on peppers, Octopus a la plancha, Cod and Jamon Croquetta, and Fried mushroom with eel.
And more eel…
It seems like a plate of adventure and mystery, but every single bite was wonderful. And the beauty of Pintxos in San Sebastian is that the bars are all in competition with each other. You could walk one block, step into 4 pubs and walk out of each with a growing food baby in your belly and a greasy smile.
I saw large pitchers of Sangria amongst the buffet of one-bite wonders, but refrained from ordering when I noticed the locals were joyously chugging bucket glasses of dark red, fruitless punch. In my rusty spanish I asked my bar neighbor, “lo que es?” tapping his glass. “Kalimotxo.” So I spun around and flailed a sauce covered hand at the friendly bartender and shouted “uno Kalimotxo por favor!” The gentlemen who helped me assemble my plate earlier joined me at the bar and ordered a sangria so I could try both local cocktails.
I watched in awe as the small mixologist filled a glass 3/4 full with Spanish red wine then popped the cap from a bottle of coke and dumped it on top. Wine and coke is the staple cocktail of San Sebastian? I love it.
This perfect crescent shaped city is a food lovers promised land. It’s the mecca of pubcrawling where you can casually eat an octopus leg, pig hoof or anchovie toast while you order a wine spiked coco-cola. I’ve lapped the beach a few hundred times to burn off my reserves and make room for a bit more.