Aaaaaand I’m turning into a human map.
Now when I wander the streets, I have a Google-induced, aerial map view of the layout planted in my head to help me navigate without having to scramble for a Starbucks and their semi-available wifi. Plus, pulling out a second generation iPad with KKG stamped across the back doesn’t exactly repel pickpockets. But I digress.
For this weekend’s adventures, I galloped away to the north of Spain (via 5 hour train ride) to el Pais Vasco. I’ve oft admired her from afar, but this was my first up-close encounter with the beautiful Basque Country and her (possibly more) beautiful culinary culture. Let me tell you peeps, those Euskadi homies know wtf they’re doing with them there pinxtos.
So let’s start with the good stuff, ya?
Pinxtos: defined by wherever it is Google gets their definitions as a small snack, typically eaten in bars, traditional in northern Spain. This might me the most underwhelming description possible for such a fantastic food adventure.
A short rundown of a possible pinxto encounter: you walk into one of the several pinxto bars you found on numerous blog posts when you were googling for your trip and are at once completely overwhelmed. There are, like, a TON of people inside and no one is speaking English and there are no waiters and a whole lotta food everywhere and #guirifever sets in. You start to panic and debate if going home to sip wine and eat cheap chips in your airbnb while watching your 17th episode of One Tree Hill sounds like such a bad night.
And then #guirishame hits you in the face and you decide to stick it out. You look around and pay attention and remember a vague description of pinxto bars from that Spanish civilization class you’ve missed 3 times that said you should order the pinxtos, sit down wherever you can scrape a spot out, and then eat the pinxtos, and pay whenever you can drag yourself away from the beautiful platos to some other bar down the road to eat, you guessed it, more pinxtos.
So you edge out a spot between a tiny old couple and young hipster pair and start reading the menu, and then realize that your Basque is a little rusty so you’ll be trusting the waiters on this one. Ask what the best dishes of the house are and move from there. (This is, of course, assuming that the waiter doesn’t try to shove off whatever dish they need to sell the most onto your unsuspecting plate, but I’ve found this typically to be untrue, especially if you’ve done your job and avoided the tourist traps).
And now to a more specific scenario: you’ve managed to snag a table at Zeruko, Arzak’s MUCH more affordable baby brother, and you’re waiting for the 3 pinxtos you just ordered with a glass of vino tinto in hand. And then, this happens.
You get to roast your own sweet, oh-so-fresh fish filet over a smoking hot charcoal grill before you place it carefully atop the inviting green paste that is hiding a pile of sweet roasted onions beneath it, and shove it all in face first. I am super seafood squeamish, and this was one of my favorite bites of the trip. Take down the mysterious green shoot to cleanse the palate post-gnosh.
Americans like to think we have the power when it comes to steak. We wrong. Because the Spanish know that you have to leave the thing bleeding if you want to leave it tasting delicious. I’m not a sirloin gal, I usually bougie-up and order the filet, but this little slice of paradise was well worth the venture. My dinner date and I finished it in two bites, stared at each other in silent consternation, and went straight to the counter to order another. YURM.
So all in all, we spent most of our night here and then finally succumbed to our nagging train-lag and snagged a few cervezas from a nearby bar and fell asleep to the deadpan comedy of What We Do in the Shadows (my current favorite mockumentary, which happens to be my current favorite movie genre. Want me to say current favorite again?)
Day 2: The Day of the Pulpo
If I had a list of life-changing dishes (which I’ve decided to start, thanks to this beaut), the octopus from Sirimiri is an easy add-on. The meat itself was PERFECT (I know, so descriptive); tender, clean white muscle wrapped in a smooth layer of buttery fat, with a thin coating of salty skin to complete the trifecta. I’m already looking forward to my next trip to Donostia just for that octopus. I would say everyone should try it but I’m quite content to keep this treasure all to myself.
Squid Ink croquetas, not too shabby either, and as every good Spaniard knows, croquetas are a cornerstone of the Spanish food pyramid, which is only made up of carbs, wine, and jamón.
Sirimiri provided us with a fantastic lunch that prepped us perfectly for the climb up Monte Urgull to catch a sweeping vista of our tiny seaside paradise. If you head up a few minutes before sunset, you can perch on the cliffside with some cheap wine and million dollar views. Now that’s a Sunday ritual I can get out of bed for.
If you’re looking for clubs, Discoteca Bataplan has an enviable spot right on the coastline of La Concha, and we managed to dance the night away quite literally until 7 am. When in Spain?