Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tapas and pintxos, small introduction to Spanish bar food

A lot of times when I introduce myself to someone and I say I come from Spain people relate it to "tapas". It's very common to face someone smiling and saying "oh, yeah! I like a lot tapas!". Me too, I like them a lot but let me tell you two things, one is that tapas is not what you think tapas is, and two, tapas are not so common is Spain as you might think.

First point is about what tapas is and what tapas has been sold by "Spanish" restaurants all around the world, here we have the problem. A 'tapa' is just a piece of food that the waiter gives to you under these circumstances: because he wants, it is free and you didn't ask for it. If these three things do not apply all at once you are not eating a tapa. A tapa normally (not always but most of times) is something simple, meaning easy to cook. But some people that have opened restaurants abroad has seen money on the name so they call their restaurants "tapas bar" following an evil plan to confuse everyone. I think nobody has ever gone to a "tapas bar" and got the food for free, right? So they are not tapas places.

Second point is about "tapa's influence area". I come from Basque Country and I must say that I have never seen tapas there, nor in the surrounding regions. Tapas is more a southern thing, starting from Madrid to the south, except some lucky cities in the north that are also use to them, like León. Taking into account that it's not common in all southern bars to give tapas, I would say that it is not such a common thing, even if it is so famous.

Some tapas we got in our last visit to Madrid

When you order some food in the bar to eat just there while drinking a beer or a wine, that's called "ración", but doesn't sound so glamorous, which is probably the reason why restaurants abroad are not called "bar de raciones" that would be much more accurate. And in Basque Country we have special piece of food in our bars, the "Pintxo".

Pintxo is a small piece of food, normally you can eat it in one or two bites and in general is more complex than the tapas, but you have to pay for it. It's very impressive entering a bar in San Sebastian or Bilbao and seeing the bar full of dishes with pintxos. You can see what I mean in this video from Erreka tavern, a bar I used to go when I lived in Bilbao:

Oh, that's wonderful!! As a disclaimer, in that bar they had an offer of bottle of wine and 6 pintxos for 12 or 15 euros I think it was, I cannot remember (good sign, by the way).

This is a pintxo I did for a dinner with friends, it's a fried potato with gulas (kind of mashed fish) and fried quail egg. Delicious.

So that's what we are used to in Basque Country, this post is kind of an introduction to the next one, where I will post the pintxos we did the other day with my friends in the "First Jagerteam's Pintxos Championship", as a spoiler I will say... I didn't win :)

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