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The right way to have pintxos in the Basque Country and how tourism is changing it

The right way to have pintxos in the Basque Country and how tourism is changing it

Aug 23rd, 2018, 01:52 AM
  #1  
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The right way to have pintxos in the Basque Country and how tourism is changing it

Thereīs a very good article today on a local Donostia-San Sebastian newspaper how tourism is changing the traditional way to have pintxos. For locals, itīs a way to socialize, not to eat, and to accompany our small drink with something to eat. It also helps to digest the excess of alcohol. Local way is to have them standing, normally one per bar, using your hands to pick them (except for those made on order, obviously) and never on a plate. Foreigners tend to take a plate, stuff it with lots of pintxos (with the complicity of the bartender, that makes more business this way) and sits down to have them. Whatīs happening? Locals are avoiding these bars (a lot in the old quarter) and looking for more authentic places. Visitors find bars full of foreigners or tourists...the unstoppable trend of times, sadly! As the article says, the denaturalization of our habits. SS Tourism Board has published a video on the right way to have pintxos. The article, in Spanish, is here: https://www.diariovasco.com/san-seba...182110-nt.html
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Aug 23rd, 2018, 06:11 AM
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Flipping tourist/foodies.
Thanks for the link.
ribeirasacra is offline  
Aug 23rd, 2018, 06:32 AM
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Last time I was in Haro we snacked standing up, no problems.
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Aug 23rd, 2018, 07:08 AM
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I admit I have a hard time thinking of it as not being about the food when I see the sheer diversity of deliciousness--but perhaps I was in places that have already begin to adapt. For those less adept at the language, it is a bit less intimidating to get a few things at once.
I hope SS will find ways to deal with its popularity--it's a tough problem. I am sure it is hard to resist change when the money is rolling in.
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Aug 23rd, 2018, 07:36 AM
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I think I knew perfectly well what the protocol for ordering and eating pintxos was when we visited Donostia, Bilbao, etc., 2 years ago. But the ravenous piggy in me prevailed every time we set foot in a bar and were confronted with all that deliciousness. I apologize for having contributed to the downfall of Basque traditions.
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Aug 23rd, 2018, 09:07 AM
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Are you willing to share the names of some of the places that are less known to tourists, where locals would prefer? We went to a few bars in Gros last time and found very few non-Spanish speakers inside, but maybe these were tourists from Madrid..
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Aug 23rd, 2018, 01:29 PM
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Of course, Ekscrunchy, I have my favorites in San Sebastian and always try to go off the beaten path when doing a tour there (for example, Taberna Ordizia, in uncrowded San Lorenzo street, right by the La Bretxa market, for the best squid in town, or Zazpi (excellent pork cheeks) or San Marcial, for traditional "gabillas", in San Marcial street. By the way, pintxos are available all over the Basque Country...many people believe itīs only in San Sebastian!
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Aug 23rd, 2018, 04:57 PM
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kja
 
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I'm glad I got to experience Basque pintxos the traditional way!
I, too, hope the tradition manages to survive tourism.
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Aug 24th, 2018, 12:27 AM
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let's see, should we tell tourists where the locals go so that they become contaminated with tourists so that they change and become like a tourist bar?

serious question

see also the perennial response re tipping (but it is what I do at home)
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Aug 24th, 2018, 01:13 AM
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Itīs not a question of where tourists go, but how tourists change our habits (gladly supported by patrons, who make much more money this way). I donīt mind going to a bar with tourists...I mind changing the local way of having pintxos and converting it into another kind of experience.
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Aug 24th, 2018, 02:49 AM
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I find this thread slightly ridiculous. You don't have to take more than one if you don't want to. You don't have to stay in one bar all night. The fact that tourists do this doesn't force you to join in.
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Aug 24th, 2018, 03:00 AM
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Of course. But the essence of this pintxos culture is then lost.
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Aug 24th, 2018, 03:17 PM
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Thanks for those tips, Mike!

This might be a silly question, but what is the difference between tapas and pinxtos? And another question: I found that Sevilla had many great tapas bars. Which other city, besides Madrid, would you consider exceptional for tapas/pinxtos?

I had two of the ones you mention in Donostia on my list but honestly, as someone wrote above, there are so many tempting options at each bar that is is often difficult to tear oneself away. Locals know they can come back the next day, or the next week, but for some foreigners, it's kind of "now or never," so I understand the impetus to try many dishes at each place, whether tradition or not....if one has only 5 or 7 days, it is not difficult to understand how one would want to try the "best" food at the many bars.

Personally I very rarely take the cold dishes; I usually go to the bar with an idea of what their specialty is and just ask for that.

And one more question, If I may: I've never had the chuleta at Bar Nestor. What would be your own choice for a great steak in the city??? I've been hooked on the local txuleta since my lunch in Axpe....I liked that much better than the one we tried at El Capricho near Astorga, and you know the chatter on that place...

Last edited by ekscrunchy; Aug 24th, 2018 at 03:20 PM.
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Aug 25th, 2018, 01:45 AM
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Hi Ekscrunchy! I found this very old post of mine in the Basque TV network web page, https://weblogs.eitb.eus/basquetouri...-not-a-racion/, explaining the difference between tapas, pintxos and raciones...still valid!

Any town in the Basque Country offers great pintxos (except those in the French side), but out of this area, Valladolid and Zaragoza would be good places for tapas, as well as Granada. Tapas, not pintxos, of course! And, regarding the steak, they offer an excellent one at Chuleta (what a name!) restaurant in 31 de agosto street. The best ones are normally served in restaurants in farmhouses outside the city, like Laia in Hondarribia, Asador Bedua, Portuondo in Mundaka, Baserri Maitea in Forua, Horma Ondo in Larrabetzu...so many!
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Aug 25th, 2018, 07:58 AM
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Originally Posted by mikelg View Post
Thereīs a very good article today on a local Donostia-San Sebastian newspaper how tourism is changing the traditional way to have pintxos. For locals, itīs a way to socialize, not to eat, and to accompany our small drink with something to eat. It also helps to digest the excess of alcohol. Local way is to have them standing, normally one per bar, using your hands to pick them (except for those made on order, obviously) and never on a plate. Foreigners tend to take a plate, stuff it with lots of pintxos (with the complicity of the bartender, that makes more business this way) and sits down to have them. Whatīs happening? Locals are avoiding these bars (a lot in the old quarter) and looking for more authentic places. Visitors find bars full of foreigners or tourists...the unstoppable trend of times, sadly! As the article says, the denaturalization of our habits. SS Tourism Board has published a video on the right way to have pintxos. The article, in Spanish, is here: https://www.diariovasco.com/san-seba...182110-nt.html
Not ADA compliant. Try holding a glass of wine and a pintxo while using a cane as a support. The traditional way is only for the young and healthy. And it is not the norm in the countryside: in the Elizondo area, small cafés in villages did not have the bar to accommodate a standing crowd and most people were sitting, preferably outside when the weather was nice.
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Aug 25th, 2018, 11:41 AM
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my dad is 87 and he goes everyday for pintxos in the traditional way!
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Aug 25th, 2018, 08:00 PM
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my dad is 87 and he goes everyday for pintxos in the traditional way!
Good for him, but so what? If I have a broken leg, never mind a more permanent disability, what does your father's state of health have to do with it?

Actually, I'm one of these terrible tourists. Waiting to eat dinner until after 22:00 doesn't agree with my metabolism, so I eat pinxtos/tapas for dinner. And I want to eat them sitting down. (I'd still want to eat them sitting down if I were just eating one, especially after a hard day's sightseeing.) Now, there was a popular place in Pamplona that dedicated most of its space to people standing up, but also had a few tables and a pinxtos menu. Looked like a good compromise to me,
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Aug 25th, 2018, 08:23 PM
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I didn't even need to eat them sitting down, though there were plenty of places that offered that opportunity (which in and of itself suggests that pintxos bars want you to take a plate, buy a bunch, and then go sit down). Maybe it's not so much the tourists but the pintxos bar owners who are changing the "culture," such as it is.

And BTW, I think it's a little blinders-on unsavvy, culturally and economically, to think that there is something terribly culturally "special" about eating only one item from a bar at a time. If anything, it seems to me to be an aberrational cultural thrust to get you to order more alcohol than you should.Is there any other place in the world where it's considered to be "the cultural norm" to eat just one small piece of food somewhere and then move on, and if so, why? Especially if there is also some "cultural norm" that says you are destroying a local tradition if you actually eat more than one piece of food at a time.

I'm all for culinary traditions - lord knows, we have them here in the Périgord, but this MIss Manners approach to eating pintxos seems absurdly unreal to me.
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Aug 25th, 2018, 08:39 PM
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kja
 
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My understanding -- which could be entirely wrong, and I trust mikelg will correct me as necessary -- is that the tradition didn't necessarily require drinking anything alcoholic with each stop, and that the alcoholic beverage of choice was txakoli, which has a very low alcohol content. I rather like the idea of a cultural tradition that "spread the business" across multiple establishments, especially in a culture that has long valued refining culinary techniques, sharing them with one's friends, and competing (if in a friendly way) with others. Too, part of the reason I travel is to experience traditions that are local, and as I understand it, Basque culture was decidedly unlike the many cultures other cultures it bumped up against!

And of course, there are actual sit-down restaurants in San Sebastian and elsewhere in Basque regions....
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Aug 25th, 2018, 11:20 PM
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Originally Posted by thursdaysd View Post
Good for him, but so what? If I have a broken leg, never mind a more permanent disability, what does your father's state of health have to do with it?

Actually, I'm one of these terrible tourists. Waiting to eat dinner until after 22:00 doesn't agree with my metabolism, so I eat pinxtos/tapas for dinner. And I want to eat them sitting down. (I'd still want to eat them sitting down if I were just eating one, especially after a hard day's sightseeing.) Now, there was a popular place in Pamplona that dedicated most of its space to people standing up, but also had a few tables and a pinxtos menu. Looked like a good compromise to me,
Well, I was answering to the previous poster, saying that this traditional way is just for the young and healthy. Of course, you can have them the way you want (even for dinner!), but itīs just not what they are there for. StCirq...pintxos are not a meal for us, itīs just a way to accompany our drinks (it can be just water, of course) and the fun consists in going from one place to another and meet different people. I know that culturally many visitors donīt understand these ways...and bartenders take advantage of it. Locals flee from these places, turning traditional pintxos places into tourist traps. If thatīs what visitors want, let them have it, of course!
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