With so many cultures, cities and countryside to eat your way through in the diversity of Europe, making the claim to be the foodie epicenter can be quite a task. Some prefer the heartier meals of Germany while others bask in the lighter fare of Greece, food of course is a question of taste which is quite personal.
What makes the seaside Basque town of San Sebastian in Northern Spain so special you might ask? It’s been hailed by chefs and foodies alike for years not just because of the food it offers, but the way that food is celebrated, eaten and enjoyed.
Similar to the Southern Spanish tradition of Tapas, the Basque culture has an epicurean buffet style of food service wherein Mediterranean dishes are laid out and plates constructed according to what one wants, its called pintxos. We drove through the seaside town on a Friday afternoon in summer, just in time for lunch.
Parking is affordable in the underground lots just adjacent to the pedestrian center of the old town. Coming up into the summer sun we saw hundreds of people enjoying the beach, jumping off the docks and sunning themselves along the stone paved walkways. Just a few steps from the blue-green sea, we entered the walkable alleyways and found a bevy of pintxos restaurants from which to choose.
The dishes consist of local fishes, meats and cheeses, vegetables and eggs. Wines are served by the glass and showcase some of Spain’s best grapes. Dishes can be fried, cured, smoked, glazed and heated. The way it works is to assemble your plate, pay at the counter and grab a table anywhere.
We found an exceptionally good selection at Baztan Pintxos and Bar. The staff were accommodating, explained what each dish had and what their preferences were. The cheese filled tortilla de patata was incredible.
Food in San Sebastian is packed with flavor, it is engrained in the pride of local people, it is celebrated at every turn with incredible smells emanating from the windows of the shops and in the eager faces ready to consume it.
What makes the Pintxos culture so tasty is the sheer competition and seriousness among the restaurants and bars concentrated in a small area. Not only do they combine some of the best Mediterranean foods from land and sea in wonderful recipes, but iron sharpens iron. The food culture attracts the best chefs who learn, taste and perfect each other’s methods to an audience of food enthusiasts eager to eat and drink any hour of the day or night, embracing quality over quantity.