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 ;).

11 Responses to “Bulls, shmulls”

  1. Sabrina Says:

    You made me so hungry going through your FB pictures 🙂 Those pinchos look delicious and I totally wanna go barhopping right now instead of working!

  2. Erin Says:

    Can’t blame you! I guess it was even more cruel of me to post all of this right as people head into to work on Monday morning!

  3. Sabrina Says:

    Oh, I wouldn’t say cruel. More like inspiration to plan the next weekend 🙂 Will you celebrate Halloween in Spain?

  4. Erin Says:

    Probably not. It’s not such a big deal here – not compared to the US anyway. They are celebrating it more and more, but not enough that I would feel comfortable going out in full costume (without a large group anyway). In the US I could go to my corporate job dressed like a beer wench (a classy one!!) and not get a second look, but here, I’m pretty sure they’d think me to be a complete lunatic if I did such a thing. Maybe I could just dress up like a flamenco dancer and really throw them off. Hmmmm.

  5. Sabrina Says:

    Same in Germany… it’s celebrated a little bit nowadays, but not nearly as much as here in the US. I like to celebrate it because it reminds me of carnival which I miss every year so much. It’s so much fun in Cologne! You should plan a trip to make up for the missed Halloween this year 🙂 When I was working in a Egyptian Diving Center one year, I think I made enemies with some tourists, because I played some silly carnival music from Germany over the speakers all day when all they wanted to do is escape it 😉 Muahahaha!

  6. Erin in Costa Rica Says:

    Yes this definitely made me hungry. I miss wine and tapas. Here in CR, it is always bread and coffee.
    I need to plan a trip to Spain!

    FYI, I used the Erin Brockovich reference the other day and it worked! Thanks for the tip! 🙂

  7. Erin Says:

    @Sabrina – I think a trip to Cologne should definitely be in my future. I guess I know who to hit up for recommendations!! Maybe I can wear my beer wench outfit there. Haha! @Eeerish 🙂 – do you ever go with “Erina?” A possible option for our very un-Spanish name.

  8. Sabrina Says:

    Of course! Ask away when you start planning your trip 🙂 And yes, the beer wench outfit would work perfectly for carnival!

  9. Mother Theresa Says:

    Hey! Pamplona! That’s where I’m at. Yes, the pinchos are as good as they look! And there is Halloween here…all you have to do is come around to where I live and see the kids out trick-or-treating. Okay, it’s still not as big as in the U.S., but having gone from no Halloween at all 18 years ago to the 20 or 30 kids we get these days is a big change. 🙂

  10. Erin Says:

    We’ve started to get some trick-or-treaters here (like one group of three kids), but ya know, until I feel comfortable walking the streets in full garb as an adult, it just can’t compare to home! I do appreciate, however, that with each year that goes by, more places seem to carry pumpkins here. Although, the holiday will never be complete until we have pumpkin patches. Picking up a miniature pumpkin in the vegetable section at the super mercado just doesn’t quite get me feeling very festive.

    P.S. It rained like crazy when we were in Pamplona.

  11. Robin Says:

    The pleasure you take in the food of Spain is contagious.

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