The Old Town’s pintxos bar is one of the most outstanding highlights in San Sebastian and a pintxo crawl is a must for all those who come to the city for its culinary treasures. People get constantly confused with the significance of ‘tapas’ and ‘pintxos’ and don’t understand very well what the difference is. They use both terms indistinctively and in the wrong way. Let’s explain the origin of pintxos and the difference from the tapas.
The origin of tapas isn’t really clear. A first theory claims it was the Spanish King Alfonso X who ruled that wine had to be served with food to ease its effects. Others, however, argue that the “true” origin of ‘Tapas’ begins in Cadiz (Andalucía), in the flagship inn named Ventorrillo del Chato, which is still open. Spanish king Alfonso XIII was staying in this inn to rest and have a drink when a gust of wind came up while the king was having a jug of wine, so the owner of the inn put a slice of ham on top of the jar to “cover it up” (tapar in Spanish) and prevent dust from tainting the drink. In those days, a tapa could be a slice of ham, chorizo or other cold meat. Sometimes, a slice of cheese instead. Nowadays a tapa is more characteristic from the center and south of Spain. It’s a portion or ration of a dish that is served in bars as a snack to accompany a beverage.
On the other hand, we could say that pintxos are a posh version of tapas and therefore much more elaborated. They probably appeared in the thirties in San Sebastian and they were also meant to mitigate the effects of wine. With the pintxo, the rounds of the txikiteros (group of friends that meet to see each other and drink wine) can be longer if accompanied by something to soak up the wine. They came up as a small slice of bread with some food on top. The food and bread were held together with a toothpick and the term “pintxo” was born. That image evolved and nowadays the pintxo is also haute cuisine in miniature, elaborated flavors concentrated in small and delicious doses. Being small portions, cooks use more sophisticated ingredients so they can be more creative and create new flavors, textures, aromas and colors. Hake, crab, anchovies, shrimp, mushrooms, peppers, cheeks, foie, the ingredient list is endless. You can find a pintxos bar almost in every corner of the city but there are three main areas where you can delight your senses with these small bites: the popular Old Town, the city centre and Gros area. Try this miniature cuisine with one of our guides: from the most traditional ones like the classic “gilda”, a spicy pickled chilli pepper, anchovy and olive skewer, created as a tribute to Rita Hayworth, to the most innovative ones, which require a more complex and creative preparation.