Perfect Pintxos in Bilbao
by The Tapas Lunch Company
From the TLC Blog
I shall always recall the first time I found myself in Bilbao. It was a grey day so I soon headed for the bars in the Casco Viejo quarter of the city. I loved them.
True, the bar that adorned its walls with old British newspapers covering the bombing campaign of the IRA in mainland Britain during the 1970's did leave me checking that the exit door was not locked. Then I looked above the bar to see the sign: "Remember. You are not in Spain. You are not in France. You are in Basque country."
That told me!
Not that you could be in any doubt about how proud and keen to be independent the locals are. Almost every bar displayed the same sign. But more importantly for my stomach, all the bars served top class Spanish - sorry Basque - food. Pintxos is so often referred to in a secondary fashion behind tapas. That is so wrong.
Pintxos are superb. Quality snacks on offer in every bar. Such variety. So many tempting me in. Having so much good food on offer often leads to me getting a headache. I just don't know where to begin. The counters of the bar are awash with snacks of all sizes and going under names some of which I'd never heard of.
The seafood cuisine here is varied. Snow crab is stuffed. Clams are served with mushrooms. Eels are served with garlic and chilli. Shrimp is a joy when cooked in a puff pastry alongside spinach. Then, of course, there is the famous Basque tuna stew, Marmitako. You certainly don't have to like seafood to enjoy on Bilbao, but it certainly helps.
I met up with a senior teacher at the British Council, Richard Winterbottom. He lives with his Basque wife and children just outside the city.
He told me: "The food has to be my favourite facet of living here. It is such good quality. They use only what is in season. They may not be as adventurous in their cooking as in some other areas of the county, but you can be sure of the quality.
"And you can learn the language while learning about the food of the region. Listen to local people in bars, restaurants and markets and try to copy them. The people may not be as instantly outgoing and sociable as you would imagine, but I find them very genuine.
"I have lived in Valencia, Madrid, Toledo and Pamplona. But the best food I have eaten is in Bilbao."
We can all fall into the trap of eating the same things when we go out to a bar in Spain. Of playing safe and sticking to what we know we like. But how are you going to discover a new tasty gem if you don't experiment.
In Bilbao there will be several bar snacks, or Pintxos, that you will not have come across elsewhere. Try them. You are sure to find new favourites.
When I was in Bilbao I went to the famous Guggenheim Museum. But there wasn't a work of art on show there to match those I tasted in the bars of the city.