How to Order Pintxos Like a Local in Basque Country

The food culture in the Basque region of Spain is truly amazing! San Sebastian is quickly becoming one of the top foodie destinations and for good reason. At the center of the Basque food culture are pintxos. These are small bites, similar to a tapa which people are probably more familiar with. In general pintxos are larger and more complex than most tapas offered in Spain. You can easily create an entire meal on pintxos, trust us we did this very often while we were in Bilbao and in San Sebastian. 

IMG_5538

 It can be intimidating to walk into a pintxos bar when you aren’t fluent in Spanish and aren’t sure the protocol. Most pintxo bars are small places and the best ones are jam packed with people. But don’t worry, we have some tips for how to order and what to order. The first stop on our northern Spain trip was Bilbao. When we arrived we knew we had to eat pintxos but we weren’t exactly sure what to do. We walked into a pintxo bar and just watched for a few minutes so we could see what people were doing and get a lay of the land. We saw people pointing to the pintxos on the bar so that is what we did. Most pintxo bars have cold pintxos out on the bar or just behind the bar, on display. So if you don’t know any Spanish you can simply point to which ones you want. Most often pintoxs are enjoyed with a drink so knowing how to order a beer or wine is helpful. Una copa de vino tinto or vino blanco will get you a glass of red or white wine respectively. You can ask for a cerveza and that will get you a beer but most locals will order a cana, which is a small glass of beer. Pintxos are meant to be eaten standing up and most locals go from place to place so don’t expect to sit at a table and stay at the same bar all night long.

We spent the first two days of our trip eating only these pintxos we saw on display. We ate well and were not disappointed but we knew we weren’t getting the full pintxo experience. We learned more later on in our trip once we got to San Sebastian. Here we took a food tour our first night hoping we would learn more than what we had already picked up on based on our observations.

What we learned is that a lot of the pintxo bars have a hot pintxo (pintxos caliente) menu which is often listed on a board (often a chalk board) on display on the wall behind the bar. Some of the bars will also have a paper copy on this menu and that may be offered in English. Hot pintxos can typically be ordered as pintxo size (small, bite size portion), a half portion (media racion) or as full portion (racion) which is a larger portion similar to what you would expect if you ordered an entrée. Either way most locals still enjoy their food standing up at the bar or a small counter. 

IMG_5539
La cuchara de San Telmo – 1/2 racion of Scallops

Once we discovered how to get hot pintxos there was no going back to the ones on display on the bar. The pintxos we ordered in San Sebastian were some of the best things we have ever eaten. While there are many Michelin star restaurants in San Sebastian we decided to stick with pintoxs each night we were there. That way you can still get amazing food but at a much lower price and get a real feel for the city as you wander the streets. You can get hot pintoxs in Bilbao but as we were there before we really had it all figured out we don’t have as many specific recommendations for Bilbao as we do for San Sebastian. Here is our list of pintxo bars you must eat at while in each city.

IMG_5447
La cuchara de San Telmo – 1/2 racion of Suckling Pig

San Sebastian:

La Cuchara de San Telmo: We ate here three times! The first time our food tour guide brought us. We loved it so much that we went back the following two nights. Everything on their menu looked amazing. The guy behind the bar taking orders was also awesome! He remembered our name and took time to say thank you and have a great night before we left. This is even more incredible when you see just how crowded this place is. Everything we had here was excellent, but you must try the Morcilla (blood sausage)! We also had the suckling pig, scallops, and pigs ear – and everything we saw come out of the kitchen looked and smelled phenomenal. One thing to note is that they almost exclusively have ration/half ration order sizes (no pintxos and everything is made to order), but don’t worry – you will wish you had more.

IMG_5450
La cuchara de San Telmo –  1/2 racion of Morcilla

Atari Gastroleku: We ended up going here twice. Once with our guided tour and once later in the week on our own. They are known for their Galician Octopus, and we also had the braised beef cheeks which are a traditional dish to the region. They are also known for their Gin & Tonics, so if you mind skipping the wine for a stop – this is the place.

IMG_5360
Atari Gastroleku – Racion of Octopus (pulpo)

Ganbara: This place is known for their mushrooms, you will see a pile of different types and there are a few different dishes you can get made to order with mushrooms and they are all on the menu. We also went here with our guide, and he ordered tuna off menu (called bonito in northern Spain, this place had it when it was in season).

Bar Sport: It was recommended by our AirBnB Host who’s brother owns this place. Despite the bias, we agreed it was very good. We mostly had the cold pintxos, and the sea urchin soup was really good.

IMG_5434

 

 

Bilbao:

Mercado de la Ribera: This is the largest covered market in Europe. You can buy fresh seafood, meats, cheeses, vegetables and fruits here. There is also a large indoor sitting area surrounded by venders selling a wide variety of pintxos.

IMG_2543

El Sacachoros: This was the first pintxo bar we stepped into. We didn’t really know what to do, so we ended up ordering off the cold bar, then sitting down at a table. We had the octopus pintxo in the picture below, which was excellent. the Iberico ham one was good too though!

IMG_4431

There are plenty of other pintxo bars in both these city’s. Wander through old town in Bilbao or San Sebastian and go into any pintxo bar full of people. We promise you won’t be disappointed with the food!

-TFWYs

Making the Most of Two Days in Athens

We went to Athens as the starting point of a week long sailing trip around the Western Cyclades and Saronic Gulf. We had about two days in Athens before we left the city. There is a lot to see in Athens so we did not get to everything. Here is what we did get to in our short time in the city and some recommendations for food to try.

We stayed near the Plaka district in the middle of the city. This is the oldest part of the city and very close to the Acropolis. It is a bit touristy with lots of shops and some more touristy restaurants but the neighborhood is beautiful and you can still find some good, authentic restaurants within walking distance. You will also be within walking distance to the acropolis and a lot of the ruins.

Changing of the guards: We had never seen a changing of the guards ceremony before so we decided to check it out. There is a ceremony every half hour at the Parliament building near Plaka. It does draw a lot of tourists so we did have to squeeze our way towards the front of the group of people watching in order to get a good view. The ceremony is fun to see if you haven’t seen one before however we did feel it was a bit drawn out so we did not stay for the entire ceremony. After about 10 minutes we felt we got the gist of it and went on with out busy day (we were trying to pack a lot of sight seeing into our short time in Athens).

img_0768

Monastiraki Square: This is a busy area near the Acropolis hill. The square itself has some beautiful old buildings including the Pantanassas Byzantine Church which you can go inside and take photos of. There is also a large flee market full of shops selling clothing, olive oil and other greek food items and souvenirs. Souvenir tip – 98% of the shops are selling the same stuff. As a rule, we try not to buy anything on the first day of a trip when everything is new and you don’t have a point of reference. If you buy something in Plaka it will likely be a bit more expensive so shop around to find the best price before purchasing. There are several restaurants and bars in this area that offer great views of the Acropolis.

Anafiotika Neighborhood: As you wander around the acropolis hill you will stumble upon a little neighborhood full of white buildings, tiny streets, beautiful flowers and lots of cats! You get the feeling of being on one of the islands in the Cyclades without actually leaving the city. Do be mindful as you are wandering through that people do live in these houses so be respectful when photographing.

Acropolis Hill and Museum: We toured the Acropolis museum and the Acropolis hill with a guide, Eva. She was recommended to us by Bearing True South (the company we sailed around the Islands with) Here is a link to her instagram account- from there you can call or email her to set up a tour: https://www.instagram.com/evanthia_great_tours_greece/. The museum is extremely well done! It is very helpful to have someone who knows what all the ruins and artifacts are to explain in more detail to you as you walk through. As you enter, you will walk over the old ruins that the museum was built over. Since there is so much history in Athens, it is impossible to build something without hitting some sort of ruins. You will have to check your bags at the entrance, and flash photography is limited to a few areas in the museum. On the top floor you will realize that the layout is designed to represent the top of the Parthenon: the carved marble around the sides and the marble statues at either end. There are signs and explanations of each artifact in the museum so it certainly isn’t necessary to have a guide if you’d rather walk through on your own.  From the museum we headed up to the top of Acropolis hill. We were up at the top at sunset and stayed to take photos until it closed. It is beautiful to be up there at sunset but it is very crowded so it is nearly impossible to get a photo of any of the ruins without other tourists in the background. I suspect it is very busy at all times of day unless you arrive right when it opens in the morning. Of course the Parthenon is the largest building at the top which most people know about. You can also see the Temple of Athena Nike, the Erechtheion and the Propylaea (the gateway or entrance to the Acropolis).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus: This stone theater is located on the slope of the Acropolis hill so you can’t miss it as you walk to the top. It is a beautiful theater and it is actually still used today. We weren’t in Athens long enough to see a performance here but there was a singer rehearsing as we walked by and stopped for photos.

dsc_0158

Panathenaic Stadium: The stadium is the site of the first modern Olympic games. It is made entirely out of marble. You can pay a fee to go in and walk around the track and up into the seats. We did not do this as you can get a great view of the stadium from the gate.

dsc_0277

Roman Agora: This is the ancient Roman Market Place. You will see these ruins as you walk around the Plaka neighborhood. You can pay an entrance fee to walk in and get closer to them. We did not as our time was limited and you can get a good view of the ruins from outside the gates (you can pretty much walk all the way around them).

Greek Agora: This is the ancient Greek marketplace. You can see this in the distance from the Acropolis, we did not walk over to see it close up but that is an option if you have more time.

Temple of Zeus:  We only saw this on our drive out of the city on our way to the marina for our sailing trip. The temple is very impressive and if we had more time we would have loved to walk around more closely. The temple consists of large columns similar to the Parthenon. We did not get any good pictures since we only saw it as we drove by.

What and Where to Eat:

  • Dinner at Seychelles: This place was within walking distance of our Air B & B in Plaka. It was small restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating. We arrived around 7:30 and we were the only ones in the restaurant. We were worried about this at first but then we realized that Greeks eat later than we do in the U.S. As we sat and enjoyed appetizers and our dinner the placed started to fill up! We would recommend the dolmas and the octopus appetizers and the Rooster with pasta in a red wine sauce for the main course. Everything was delicious. They also had a good selection of Greek wine on the wine list, we don’t know a lot about Greek wine believe it or not! There are a lot of grapes that don’t grown in other places so we just picked randomly or asked our waiter for a recommendation when we wanted to order wine.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • Central Municipal Market: We are foodies so we always enjoy wandering through the markets when we travel. It gives you a glimpse into how the locals shop and eat! The central market is where you can buy fresh fruits and veggies, meat and fresh seafood. The market itself is full of locals buying food. Around the market there are shops selling spices, olives and olive oil, cheeses and other Greek goods. There are several small restaurants around the market where you can enjoy a coffee, a gyro or slouvlaki wrap or a pie (cheese and spinach would be our recommendations).
  • Restaurant Attolos: We walked to this place after our tour of the Acropolis. The road it is on has a ton of popular restaurants that were all crowded. This one was recommended by our sailing guide and we were able to sit outside with great clear views of the Acropolis. The food was very good and they had good Greek wine (that we couldn’t pronounce). We had a Greek salad, chicken souvlaki, and grilled sea bass. The food was very good and the views were awesome.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  •  IceRoll near Monastiraki Square: This is an ice cream shop where you chose your base flavor and any fruits, nuts or more chocolate or caramel that you want added to your ice cream. They pour the base cream onto a cold counter top, add in whatever you would like then mix it together and the mixing on the cold countertop turns it into ice cream! They roll it into several individual rolls and serve it in a large cup. the ice cream itself is delicious and it is a fun to watch them make it right in front of you!
  • Kappari: We had fig salad, pork leg in a honey glaze which says it is for two but really could easily feed closer to 4 people. The orange pie dessert was also amazing!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

-TFWY