October 24, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Food and wine, Spain, Traditions, Travel, Travels in Spain

I scarf down one, two, who knows maybe ten pinchos, and think to myself, what’s this you say about running of the bulls? Ah, right, Pamplona is known for that yearly week of runs in which hulligans from around the world try their hand at playing one-sided tag with angry bulls. But golly, with my own town’s fabulous and exhilarating running of the bulls, who needs Pamplona? Well, I do now, but not because of those silly bulls.

Back to the pinchos and my unrelenting appetite for Spanish cuisine. Pinchos, or pintxos as they are spelled in Basque, aren’t just a type of food, but a whole new eating experience. Similar to going out for tapas, going out for pinchos requires one to hop from bar to bar, sampling the food and a glass of wine or beer along the way. Pinchos are a Basque concept, and while Pamplona is in the region of Navarra, not Basque Country, there is a lot of overlap. Many areas of Navarra (particularly the northwest) are predominantly Basque-speaking and have a great deal of Basque influence, while other parts of the region are a mixture, and then the rest is more or less entirely “Spanish” (which I put in quotes given the Basque vs. Spain controversy – yet again, a subject requiring a different blog).

The pinchos themselves are appetizer-sized portions, almost always served on or with a small slice of bread. At a pinchos bar, one doesn’t sit down, crack open a menu and call the waiter over, however. Oh no, it is nothing as glamorous as this. Remember the last time you went to a crowded bar and had to shimmy your way up past the barricade of people in order to capture the bartender’s attention? (I realize this may be a more distant memory for some of us. Love you Grandma!) Well, if you’re in a good pinchos bar, then it indeed resembles this experience, although with better lighting, fewer inebriated 20-year-olds, and a much better payoff – both a drink and something to satiate your growing hunger! If you are lucky enough to secure a spot at the bar (a feat accomplished by carefully analyzing which bar-dwellers are closest to departing), you will be able to peruse the vast display of delicacies sprawled out in front of you and just start ordering away. After trying a couple, it’s time to pop over to the next spot where you can once again release your passion for pinchos by elbowing your way to the bar. If you fancy a trip to Pamplona (for the pinchos, of course – who cares about those bulls), my best advice to you when pinchos hopping is to start at Bar Gaucho (our favorite) and then just keep skipping around from bar to bar looking for those that are the busiest, and therefore most likely to have the best pinchos!

Don’t get me wrong, there is more to this city than just pinchos and bulls. The occasionally hilly city streets are filled with colorful homes that, surprise, remind me of San Francisco! Pamplona is also quite well known for one of its very famous American visitors, Ernest Hemingway, who made many trips to the city, immersing himself in Spanish culture. His legacy there is an important one as he essentially helped to raise the city’s fame to an international level, particularly with his first successful novel The Sun Also Rises (which I admittedly have yet to tackle!). Tributes to him are evident throughout the city, including where we stayed, Hotel La Perla, a hotel once host to the Nobel Prize-winning author.

I realize I’ve been quite cruel with all this talk of Pamplona and pinchos, so in an effort to tease you just that much more, I’ve posted a boatload of pincho pictures (among others) on the La Tortuga Viajera Facebook page. Once again I take you on a calorie-less journey through Spanish cuisine! You can thank me later ;).