Tag Archives: food & drink

el deseo, granada, restaurant, italian

El Deseo, Granada. You couldn’t wish for more.

Restaurant reviews aren’t normally my thing, but when I was invited to sample a selection of new fare available at one of Granada’s top eateries, how could I resist?

Restaurante El Deseo, located in the charming Plaza La Romanilla to the left of the city’s grand cathedral, is hardly in dire need of customers. Before my dining experience there, I had often noted how popular the place was, yet, such is my fondness for tapas bars, I’d never gone to see what all the fuss was about.

We are warmly welcomed by co-owner Sergio, who instructs us to sit back, relax and wait for the gastronomic goodies, which, according to the menu, promise ‘a surprising fusion of Italian and Granadino culinary cultures’,  to start flowing.

First out, along with the beers, is a delightful tuna steak tidbit to whet the appetite. This is free tapa country after all.

El Deseo03 El Deseo, Granada. You couldnt wish for more.

The first course arrives soon after that: Cartuchito Andaluz, a paper cone spilling out fried, tender calamari rings with green and red sweet potato fries, and the Delrio de ‘Ricotta’, a three-variety tomato salad with chunks of ricotta cheese, soaked in a rich olive-oil pesto dressing.

The freshness of the salad offsets the saltiness of the calamari perfectly, and it is certainly the first time either of us have tried green, sweet potato fries. Both are promptly devoured.

El Deseo04 El Deseo, Granada. You couldnt wish for more.

Cartuchito Andaluz y Delrio de ‘Ricotta’

Then we are served what turns out to be our favourite and indeed most surprising dish of the day: Gambas Planchadas.

‘Plancha’, in Spanish, means ‘iron’. I’ll never forget the first time I saw Pescado a la Plancha on a Spanish menu, my fledgling mind conjuring up images of a chef somewhere in the kitchen flattening fish with an iron before serving them up on a plate. I soon discovered it also meant ‘grilled’, which, I imagine, is what those of you who speak Spanish are probably envisaging with these gambas (prawns), bizarre as that may sound. Yet it’s actually a lot more bizarre than that; you see, Deseo’s head chef actually does iron his prawns, between two pieces of greased paper, resulting in one, large 3-4mm thick layer of, well, prawn. Topped off with a garlic dressing and a handful of spinach, it goes down brilliantly. How about that for innovation?

El Deseo06 El Deseo, Granada. You couldnt wish for more.

Gambas Planchadas

Next out are two more divine contraptions: Risotto de Moda, a millanese, saffron and mushroom blend, which, given its namesake, is presumably all the rage right now, and Huevos Rotos, fries topped with  an egg and black truffle fondue sauce and diced jamón de recebo.

The risotto, sprinkled with tuna flakes, is thick, rich and creamy and, in spite of our determination, we cannot do it justice by seeing it off. The huevos rotos, which had actually been reduced in size so as to make more room, is equally as gratifying yet, ultimately, as overwhelming too.

We are, as the Spanish say, ‘hincho‘.

 

But there is always room for dessert, and ours, brought to us by a smiling Sergio, looks heavenly. The Mojito del Deseo is sublime; a honey-glazed strawberry and melon salad form the bulk of the dish, but the refreshing, mojito-flavoured sorbet that sits on top is the tastiest thing we’ve had all day. All year, actually.

El Deseo15 El Deseo, Granada. You couldnt wish for more.

Mojito del Deseo

For expats and travellers on a budget, of which there are many in Granada, a cheap tapas bar will do the job, but occasionally it’s nice to splurge.

And El Deseo is definitely the place to do that.

El Deseo20 El Deseo, Granada. You couldnt wish for more.

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sierra cantabria, rioja, wine, wine-making, spain, spanish wine, elciego

Make mine a Rioja! A glance at Spain’s top wine region

Rioja wine is undoubtedly one of Spain’s most recognised exports; when ordering a glass at any Spanish bar, chances are it will come from the northern wine-making region. There hundreds to choose from, many with their own distinct shades and flavours, typical of the area from which they are from. Rioja, having spent centuries producing wine of the finest quality, is a region dedicated to its wine-making. Officially, La Rioja is divided into three regions: Rioja, Rioja Alavesa (the Basque Country) and an area in Rioja, east of Logrono, which belongs to Navarre.

However, the Rioja wine producing region has its own frontiers, containing the three sub-regions Rioja Alavesa (belonging to the Spanish Basque Country), Rioja Alta and Rioja Baja.

This piece will focus on the  first of these regions: Rioja Alavesa. This is the wine production area in Rioja that lies to the north of the River Ebro– the second longest in Spain. As is normally the case in large wine-producing areas, there is always a river nearby. The vineyards to the north of the Ebro are part of Rioja Alavesa, which is sheltered by the Sierra de Cantabria mountain range. These imposing masses of granite limit the negative influence of the cold northern winds, allowing the grapes to flourish. Similarly, the level of rain in the Alaves region is also curbed by the close proximity of the mountain range; the clouds tend to thin out a bit before entering Rioja Alavesa (take a look at both sides on Goggle Maps to understand where it really rains!), which is good for the wine, since too much rain would mean less exposure to the sun which is needed for the grapes to ripen.

Sierra Cantabria ysios Make mine a Rioja! A glance at Spains top wine region

La Sierra Cantabria

If you plan a trip to Rioja it is vital that you explore the entire region, and that you are not limited by the official frontiers we have described. A casual observer might not notice the difference between one region and the next, but closer inspection would bring to light some fascinating contrasts in architecture and wines to taste within the three regions. The architecture of the houses in Rioja Alavase, for instance, are more reminiscent of the typical buildings of the Basque Country, and there are, of course, tangible differences in the accent and dialect of each region’s people. Gastronomy in this part of the Basque country is made up of a rich mixture between Basque and Riojan styles. Most restaurants deliver excellent value for money and mouthwatering menus, which– unlike much of the rest of Spain –are often favourable for vegetarians.

As for the wines, there are palpable differences between the wines of Rioja Alavesa and the wines of Rioja Alta. The larger wineries can be found in the Rioja Alta region, where vineyards typically extend across different villages or towns and the best known brands of Rioja are often produced. In the case of Rioja Alavesa, production is often more limited in quantity and wineries are not so well-known (despite some very important exceptions). The Alavesa region is, however, renowned for its carbonic maceration wines. These are very fresh wines, which are made using the same process for alcoholic fermentation as the wines in Beaujolai in France. When these wines are young they offer all the character of the local grapes (most typically trempranillo for these wines).

landscape rioja alavesa Make mine a Rioja! A glance at Spains top wine region

A typical scene in the Rioja Alavesa region

Wine sampling aside, there are many wonderful places to visit in Rioja Alavesa. Many small, isolated villages can be found in the high hills, which historically served as defensive barriers against enemies. From these villages, which can be seen on the horizon from afar, you can get fantastic panoramic views of the vineyard lansdcape. On the road from Haro to Logrono (north of the Ebro) you will be able to spot several of these villages, such as Laguardia or Labastida. Laguardia, which contains an underground labyrinth of wine cellars, is unique in that cars are not permitted to pass above, so as to ensure that these cellars do not suffer from vibration. Other towns of interest are Elciego, Villabuena de Alava or Lapuebla de la Barca, which is so-called thanks to the boat service that maintained communication between both sides of the river in the past.

rioja alavesa cave laguardia Make mine a Rioja! A glance at Spains top wine region

A passageway to the underground maze of wine cellars in the Alavesa region’s Laguardia

A trip to this part of Spain brings us to a land where vineyards are quite simply everywhere. Life here is entwined with wine (pun intended) and the locals tend not to talk about much else other than the harvest and the quality of Rioja’s grapes. And to be perfectly honest, they’ve every right to: Spanish wine simply does not come any better.

This article is a guest post by Winetourismspain, a Madrid based travel agency specialising in wine tours in the Rioja region of Spain. I love wine and I love travel, particularly within Spain, so I am more than happy to publish guest posts like this. If you represent a brand that you feel would be a good fit for Spain For Pleasure then please get in touch via my contact page.

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manitas de cerdo, pig's trotters, spain tapas, strange tapas, weird tapas

Waste not, Want not: 5 Bizarre Pig-based Tapas

To be a pig in Spain would be akin to being Mr. Bean vs. Vinnie Jones in a celebrity death match, or a plankton being sucked into the gaping jaws of a blue whale. In other words, not a chance in hell; up shit creek without a paddle; absolutely screwed. You get the idea.

The Spanish love their jamón – that is a well-known fact – but pork-based dishes, unfortunately for pigs, extend far beyond thatI’m talking balls, brains, bladders and dried blood sausages; dishes that will leave fussy eaters and vegetarians gasping for air. And a salad.

In Granada I have occasionally come across such offerings, and while I have had only the guts to try one of them, they have inevitably stuck in my mind. Here, in absolutely no order of preference, are five of Spain’s most bizarre pig-based dishes:

Tortilla del Sacromonte

tortilladeelsacromonte Waste not, Want not: 5 Bizarre Pig based Tapas

Tortilla del Sacromonte. Chewy.

If you’re unsure of what to do in Granada after visiting The Alhambra, why not head over to the neighbouring barrio of Sacromonte and dine on a delightful medley of pigs’ brain and testicles? This variation of the classic Spanish dish frequently causes tourists to scrunch up their faces as though they’ve just necked a litre of tequila, but don’t worry– it comes in cow and sheep flavour too. The locals love it.

Manitas de Cerdo

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Manitas de Cerdo (Source: Javier Lastras FlickrCC)

Del cerdo, se come hasta los andares” – ‘of the pig, one eats to the trotters’ – or so the saying goes. Whether there is a saying or not, people still eat pig’s feet in Spain, that’s for sure.  Historically, manitas de cerdo was allegedly a poor man’s food, given as leftovers as payment for helping out in the killing of the pig. These days it’s not uncommon to find a set of pig’s trotters laid out among fillets and thighs in a local butchers, usually sold for the purpose of adding flavour to stocks and soups, but it is also often served with chorizo.

Oreja de Cerdo

orejadecerdo Waste not, Want not: 5 Bizarre Pig based Tapas

Oreja de Cerdo. It’s all ears.

The term ‘pig’s ear’ is used to refer to a mess or a job badly done in English. In Spain this couldn’t be any further from the truth; Oreja de Cerdo is a very popular dish, when cooked right. And just in case you were imagining pronging your fork into a great big flapping ear, it is not served whole, rather, cut into small pieces, cooked with sweet peppers, parsley and garlic, and fried until crispy. Not too bad, I’m told.

Morcilla

6211131483 8ac631a2da b Waste not, Want not: 5 Bizarre Pig based Tapas

Morcilla de Burgos (Source: Jonathan Pincas FlickrCC)

Many of you will be familiar with the famous English black pudding – a blend of pork fat, onions, oatmeal and pig’s blood – but Spain’s version, Morcilla, comes wrapped in the rind of pig’s intestine and exists in many varieties. La Morcilla Andaluza, for example, is filled with belly pork, dewlap, bacon, blood, garlic, salt and a mix of spices such as oregano and cumin. This is the only dish on this list that I have had the cojones to try– an incident which took place at a local tapas bar that specialises in the dish here in Granada, much to the amusement of my accompanying students and the bar staff. If you want to come and try it for yourself then there is plenty of affordable accommodation around town.

Criadillas de Cerdo

pigsballs Waste not, Want not: 5 Bizarre Pig based Tapas

Delicious, no?

I do wonder who first had the urge to chop off a pig bollock and pop it in his mouth. Times must have been hard. Nevertheless, it clearly went down well and subsequently caught on in Spain, as we are now able to stroll in to our local butchers and place an order for a whole sack of them, if we’ve the balls to do it. Unlike in the Tortilla del Sacromonte, they usually come plain solo in this version, save for a watery,  garlic and vinegar sauce and a few hunks of bread to mop up with. I once stumbled upon it in the rural Andalucían town of Piñar and had to politely decline. The locals, however, went nuts for it.

Ham sandwich anyone?

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sayingcheers

The Ten Spanish Drinking Commandments

There’s a knack to drinking in Spain; a certain manifesto that – given enough time – one generally becomes accustomed to. We Brits are used to a binge-drinking culture that for one reason or another didn’t go away after the Labour party brought in 24-hour licensing laws in 2005. The rationale was that it would instil more of a sophisticated, continental café-type drinking attitude. A legitimate proposal, you might argue, but doomed from the start really.

But this notion of a ‘café-drinking culture’ could only have sprung from countries like France, Belgium and indeed, Spain. Yet I often wonder how and why this is.

I can’t speak for France or Belgium but here in Spain, I’ve rarely felt sophisticated when knocking back the beers with amigos at the weekend. Not to say, of course, that civilised and responsible drinking doesn’t take place – this does happen, and is generally a daytime custom – but going out for a drink frequently means the same thing as it does in Britain: going out for a drink to get drunk. And when this happens, there are rules to follow. Thus, I doth bring you…

THE 10 SPANISH DRINKING COMMANDMENTS

ten commandments heston l The Ten Spanish Drinking Commandments

One: Thou shalt choose wisely

As is the case anywhere in the world, getting to know foreign beverages duly involves many instances of trial and error. There are inevitably good ones and bad ones, which can usually be set apart judging by their respective price tags. In Spain, however, each beer, glass of wine or copa is often as cheap or costly as the next, and unless you’ve a Spanish friend on hand to help, you’ll end up having to sift your way through them all until you find a winner. Everyone has their preferences, but as a rule of thumb, don’t go for:

Cruz Campo: A Sevillana cerveza that is essentially Spain’s equivalent to Fosters, unless of course you are in Seville, where it is considered to be almost on par with holy water.

Sangría: Not only will this probably not be available, but it is a proper tourist drink that is usually made with the cheapest, nastiest wine and liquor that is too embarrassing to leave on the back bar – unless you’re at a fancy beach bar on the Costa del Sol.

Ron Negrita: A good choice if one’s sole intention is to become inebriated as quickly as possible – it’s strong, and cheap when bought from a supermarket, but be warned: the resaca is devastating.

Two: Thou shalt speak with proper tongue

In the UK we say ‘Cheers’, often not even excitedly, before we take that first, yearned-for sip. In Spain, you could probably write a book on the things to say and how to say them before getting stuck in. ‘Salud!’ is the direct translation – fair enough – but occasionally one is required to join in with longer, often rather puzzling verses, the learning of which is effectively a rite of passage for us guiris. ‘Pa arriba’, pa’ bajo, pa’ al centro, pa’ dentro!’ – ‘Up, down, to the centre, inside’ – is the most commonly used expression. Andalucíans can be crude though, as is exhibited through the use of: ‘Quien no apoya no folla, quien no recorre no se corre’ – He who doesn’t support doesn’t get laid, he who doesn’t ‘run along the surface’ doesn’t well, er, ‘finish the job’, so to speak. How British of me.

Three: Thou shalt not forget the proper traditions

As is customary to learn the local limericks and sayings, boorish as they may be, one must also respect the non-verbal rituals when out drinking in Spain. Rubbing the bottom of your glass in a circular motion on the bar or table and then banging it back down is one such example. Even today I haven’t a clue as to why we do it. I suppose it’s one of those little mysteries I enjoy being confounded by. It takes place in between saying ‘Salud!’ and taking that first swig, which is where the next practice comes in: eye contact. If you fail to make eye contact at that precise moment the first sip is taken, you are, effectively, condemning yourself to seven years of bad sex. Yes I know! I gulped too.

15764 friends saying cheers in pu The Ten Spanish Drinking Commandments

Here’s to some great sex!

Four: Thou shalt exercise caution

I’ve alluded to the importance of drinking stamina in Spain before, but it really is beyond doubt the single most fundamental commandment of the 10 Spanish drinking commandments. We go all night in Spain, and if you don’t pace yourself then you could be in for a sudden case of las naúseas later on down the line. Be clever and go slow.

cadiz8am The Ten Spanish Drinking Commandments

The Finish Line at 8am

Five: Thou shalt drink at lunch time

Forget any pre-conceived idea of what society constitutes as ‘normal’ drinking hours. Any hour is a drinking hour in Spain. Some Spaniards even consider it unusual for somebody not to have a beer during a lunch break. ‘Why bother with coke?’ I was once asked. ‘It’s the same price as beer.’ Fair point really.

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Six: Thou shalt not be vexed by la cuenta police

Most bars in Spain do not charge customers until they are ready to leave. This is fine, providing you are not part of a large group and have inadvertently become involved in a longwinded, tedious squabble over who’s had what and who owes who. As was touched on by Jess of HolaYessica! (in a post that I can no longer find) a few months ago, this can get very annoying. Personally, I am of the ‘let’s just split it evenly to keep it simple and painless’ sect; there’s no mood killer quite like somebody taking out their smartphone to work out how much more that person who was on the mojitos owes. However, this is often the case here in Spain and if you’re like me then you just have to learn to deal with it.

Seven: Thou shalt eat whenever possible

If there’s a tapa there, take it. As commandment four stipulates, pacing oneself is imperative if you are to make it safely to the finish line. Food is fuel and – if you’re in my neck of the woods – served free with every drink. When tapas are finished for the night (generally around midnight in most places) there’s always that tasty, irresistible-when-drunk-and-hungry alternative: el Shawarma. Best to keep an emergency pack of chewing gum about for when this happens though – don’t want to scare off that pretty Spanish girl now do we? Or boy – girls like shawarma too.

img 0737 The Ten Spanish Drinking Commandments

Eight: Thou shalt take a nap beforehand

A Spanish politician recently suggested that Spain do away with the siesta so as to help boost the country’s failing economy by having longer working hours. There was uproar. Siestas are fundamentally important here, whether meant as strategic pre-drinking snoozes or not. In any case, they can potentially determine the outcome of a night out: still up at dawn singing loudly, or in bed by 2am, snoring loudly.

Nine: Thou shalt attend a ‘botellon’ at least once

The term ‘botellon’ is used loosely to refer to what we Brits simply call ‘pre-drinking’. It takes place either in somebody’s home before la hora de salir in order to attain a satisfactory and cost-effective level of drunkenness, or out on the streets among hundreds of other tipple-toting dipsomaniacs. The majority of these tend to be alarmingly young looking, often because they are in fact very, very young. The police let them get on with it, providing they all stay out of trouble, and here in Granada, there is even a large, designated area, known as el Botollodromo, where this shameless debauchery takes place. Ten years ago I would have loved it. These days, however, I’d rather go for option one in the comfort of a cozy home. You might like it though.

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Botellon (Source)

Ten: Thou shalt learn these words

Here and there I’ve inserted some useful Spanish words and phrases that you may very well need when drinking in Spain. Here are their translations, along with a few others:

‘la hora de salir’ – time to leave

‘copa’ – spirit and mixer

‘llename’ – fill me up

‘un chupito’ – a shot

‘ponme otro’ – another one please

‘cuanto cuesta?’ – how much?

‘venga otro más’ – sod it give us one more

‘buenas noches’ – good night

‘resaca’ – hangover

‘las naúseas’ – the act of being repeatedly sick

imag0063 The Ten Spanish Drinking Commandments

Cidra y Perucci Martinis

Got any more to add to the list? Let’s hear them in the comments section below…

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don't forget

Five things not to forget when moving to Spain

 Five things not to forget when moving to SpainSo, you’ve taken the plunge and you’re doing it: you’re going to move to Spain. Firstly, congratulations – a wise decision indeed. Secondly, let me remind you: packing your life into a couple of suitcases is no easy task. Certain things are often mistakenly – sometimes even tragically – overlooked. As Janet Jackson (and probably somebody else far more noble before her) once noted, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”. Them be wise words Janet; I know just what you mean. The first few weeks of my Spanish adventure were blighted through lack of homely goods. Of course I managed without – it’s all part of the process of moving away and an open mind is certainly something you don’t want to forget – but everyone gets cravings for home comforts from time to time. And when that time comes, you’ll be thanking me for this wee list here.

Current expats feel free to add your own examples icon smile Five things not to forget when moving to Spain

 

One: Chocolate

 

Not saying that Spanish chocolate isn’t good, just not as good. Brands you’re likely already familiar with will cost more in Spain as they’re all imported, yet – for some reason I can’t put my finger on – they never seem to taste the same. Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, for instance, is nowhere near as satisfying, but maybe I’m being tiquismiquis (my favourite Spanish word). Milka, usually for a round €1 a bar, is your best bet in Spain.

Then there’s this obsession for nutty chocolate that I can’t wrap my head around either. Almonds and hazelnuts creep their way into far too many bars and they’re not even offset with raisins. Madness.

 

Two: Cheddar Cheese

There’s a lot of love for cheese in Spain, which is great for obvious reasons, but there’s no cheddar, and that cheeses me off. Weirdly, they do have Lea & Perrins, which, to have without cheddar cheese, is a frightening thought and one I won’t dwell on any longer.

Manchego is the staple cheese in Spain, and can be found in virtually any bar across the country. It often comes served with green olives, a swimming pool of olive oil and slice of bread to mop up with. But it doesn’t melt on toast.

 

Three: Proper Tea

Tea is a whole different bag in Spain. First off, it is and will forever remain secondary to coffee. Second, tea with milk is considered peculiar. Spanish friends of mine still can’t quite comprehend why we do it, just as I can’t comprehend how they (generally) don’t like it. Instead, it’s tea of the green, peppermint or fruity variety that hog the shelves in the likes of Día, Carrefour and the mighty Mercadona. To be fair, the latter does stock PG Tips – which will do – and I’m told Lidl do Tetley’s, but you’re barmy if you think you’ll find Yorkshire Tea anywhere in Spain. If you do find some though, shoot me a private message will you?

 

Four: Squash

squash Five things not to forget when moving to Spain

Don’t get me wrong – proper fruit juice is undeniably better than squash (a concentrated, fruit-flavoured cordial to be diluted with water for anyone wondering), but when it’s water you need, it’s water you get in Spain. Contaminating it with this ‘squash’ stuff is a simply ludicrous idea that turns most Spanish stomachs. I grew up on the stuff. In fact I probably consumed a small ocean of Robinson’s Apple & Black Current over the course of my childhood, and there’s always a bottle of it waiting for me when I go home. Cheers mum.

It is seriously missed in Spain. One friend of mine actually drove from Cadiz to Gibraltar to get some in a fit of sweaty desperation. Well, perhaps that’s overstating it a bit but it was listed as one of the main reasons for making the trip. Completely understandable though.

 

Five: Custard Creams

There’s a chance this one might be just ever so slightly self-indulgent but in the all-time biscuit rankings – if there is such a thing (and if there isn’t there ought to be) – the Custard Cream, alongside the McVitie’s Milk Chocolate and Caramel Digestive (credit where credit’s due), surely takes first place. Somehow, unfathomably, it has evaded Spain. I know, incredible, but true. You can probably cram three or four packets of these in your suitcase, and make them last until Christmas if you’re a disciplined rationer. It’s all Oreos and deeply unsatisfying Rich Tea in Spain I’m afraid.

Any other suggestions?

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pintxo, san sebastian, spain, basque country

Pintxo hopping in San Sebastian, País Vasco

The only thing I could be sure of before heading to País Vasco was that I was going to eat well; anybody I spoke to who had been before would probably have testified to it in a court of law had they been given the chance.

“Dios mio que suerte! La comida alli es increíble!” they would more or less say.

“Me traigas un pintxo vale?”

Hmm. Bring you one back? Wouldn’t a fancy tapa along Calle Navas suffice instead?

They were joking of course, but when I arrived at Bar Txalupa – my first Pintxo bar in San Sebastián – cold, sodden and starving, I quickly realised that such a request –whether it had been a joke or not –wasn’t so unreasonable after all. The overflowing dishes of elaborately concocted pintxos looked fit for a king. Choosing which I was going to devour first was a tough decision to take. Eventually though, I settled for the elegant jamón and goat’s cheese salad tostada and sweet tuna mayo-stuffed, red pepper. Both of them were practically inhaled at the cost of €2.50 each (without a drink included). A budget lunch in San Sebastián, it seemed, was not an easy thing to come by.

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Pintxo de jamón y queso de cabra y pintxo de pimienta roja con atún. Divine.

img 0845 copy Pintxo hopping in San Sebastian, País Vasco

Next, my couchsurfing host, Luis – author of ‘Aquel Año Erasmus’ – led me to his personal favourite, Bar Juantxo, where the pintxos were apparently cheaper and just as appetising. We arrived and waded in through the jostling crowd. Beside the Spanish menu was one written in Euskera. ‘Time to flex my lingo skills’ I thought, ‘how hard can it be if it’s written in front of me?’ I gave it my best shot, and was met with first a smile, and then the translated version in Castellano. ‘Si’ I replied with a sigh. I’d managed my first proper Basque sentence but the fact that the barman had answered in Spanish irked me, just as it used to when Spanish people spoke to me in English when I was trying my hardest to spit out a sentence in Spanish. At least I knew I’d got it right.

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Bocadillo de lomo y pimiento rojo

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The food was just as gratifying as Luis had promised, and cost just €2 a pintxo, and €3 for a larger bocadillo. I went for a pork and pepper baguette and another wedge of ham-topped tortilla. The highlight though, was hearing Euskera spoken properly for the first time. It came from a family sitting to our left, and largely involved a mother scolding her children for chasing each other around the room. I wouldn’t have known if Luis hadn’t pointed it out. When I tuned in, it honestly sounded as though it could have been any foreign language; I couldn’t relate in any way whatsoever, except for that it seemed to have the same rhythm as Castellano. That’s when it hit me that I could have already heard Euskera on numerous occasions in Bilbao but had simply failed to realise it. Mierda.

img 0849 copy Pintxo hopping in San Sebastian, País Vasco

Pintxod out, I spent the rest of the afternoon making hay while the sun still shone. Unfortunately, a broad layer of dreary, txirimiri (basque for ‘drizzle’) tipping clouds later choked most of that sunshine out, leaving me somewhat underwhelmed by my environs. Next day, however, it opened up a bit, and in between yet more pintxos, I spent the afternoon wandering San Sebastián’s parte vieja and unhurriedly climbing the littoral, castle-topped Monte Urgull, which overlooks the city and offers sweeping views. The sky at the mount’s summit was still overcast, but nevertheless provided a brilliant, spooky sort of backdrop to the small island of Santa Clara, which lies just 700m from the curved Playa de la Concha.

La Parte Vieja (The Old Town)

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La Catedral

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Iglesia de Santa María

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The Door of Santa María

Views from Monte Urgull

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San Sebastián

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Statue of Jesus atop Monte Urgull

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Isla de Santa Clara

More Pintxos

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Casa Vergana, Calle Mayor

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I enjoyed my time in San Sebastián, and could see why many people insist on the city being the highlight of the Basque region – there’s a certain ecclesiastical charm about the place that is lacking in neighbouring Bilbao – but things get rather quiet in the evening. Spain were playing France in a World Cup qualifier match one of the nights I was there, which in Andalucía would warrant jam-packed bars on every street corner, but you’d be forgiven for thinking there had been a recent outbreak of the plague in San Sebastián; it was dead, and those out for a drink seemed to be totally unconcerned about the football. In a way, it was a refreshing change, but a surprising one nonetheless.

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Making music on Zurriola Bridge

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San Sebastián, or Donostia, as it is called in Euskera, is definitely a daytime city, which revolves around its inimitable gastronomy scene. There’re plenty of tasty tapas elsewhere in Spain, but you’ll have to come here if you really want to sample Spanish cuisine at its absolute best. Take it from me, a newly converted pintxo aficionado who guzzled back no less than eleven of the toothsome treats in just under 48 hours. And for the record, I actually did attempt to bring a couple back to Granada, though they were accidentally eaten on the plane.

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Surfers on Playa de Gros

Have you been to San Sebastián? What’s the best pintxo you’ve ever had?

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