Trying traditional foods are an integral part of any trip to Spain. If you happen to explore northern Spain, bar hopping to eat pintxos (or pinchos) are an absolute must! These delicious Spanish snacks are typically stabbed with a toothpick and served with drinks. Each pinchos bar will have different ones to try, so you might need to do lots of taste-testing to find your favorites—darn.
My first pintxos experience in Spain yielded nine toothpicks (that’s how they charge you!), though throughout my bucket list travels I have racked up quite a few dozen more. How many will you have?
Best Spanish Pintxos (Pinchos) to Try + A Guide with Recipes
What are Pinchos (Pintxos)?
If you have eaten tapas, you will realize that Spanish pinchos or pintxos are similar. They are snacks from northern Spain, notably the Basque country, that are usually eaten as appetizers before dinner—it’s like Spanish happy hour!
Pintxo means ‘spike’ or ‘skewer’, so essentially the food is spiked with a cocktail stick or skewer to hold it in place differentiating it from tapas. Often, the ingredients are placed on top of a small piece of bread with a stick pierced through to the base but it is also common to see pinchos without the base of bread. Generally, they are served with a stick to hold the ingredients together, but sometimes these appetizers are served without sticks too.
There is an abundance of bars in the Basque region (and even around Barcelona) that serve pinchos for folks looking to savor food paired with wine or beer. Their popularity can be seen from the crowds of locals and tourists that hang out at these bars. Some of the common ingredients used for them are different kinds of fish/seafood, meat, cheese and vegetables in all kinds of combinations.
What is the Difference Between Pinchos & Pintxos?
There is basically no difference in meaning between the two terms and they can be used interchangeably. The word ‘pintxo’ originates from Basque country and initially only ingredients from the region were used to make pintxos. Now, ingredients from other places in Spain too are used in the preparation along with local ingredients.
In the Basque language of the region, the word is spelled as ‘pintxo’ while in Spanish it is spelled as ‘pincho’. So, if you are in Basque country, you are more likely to come across the term ‘pintxos’ but ‘pinchos’ too is used. The region is known for its fabulous cuisine and pintxos are an intrinsic part of the food culture here.
Best Places to Find Pinchos (Pintxos)
If you wish to find the finest pintxos in Spain, your search ends in Basque country. More specifically, the city of San Sebastian is home to some of the best Pintxo bars. You can go from bar to bar in San Sebastian’s old town for an evening out. Don’t miss Atari Gastroteka or Gandarias Jatetxea!
Other places for these great Spanish snacks in Basque country are Hondarribia, Bilbao, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Lekeitio and Bermeo. Besides the Basque region, there are other northern regions which also have their own share of amazing pincho bars. Some of these places include the Cantabria region especially the city of Santander, the Asturias region notably Oviedo city and Navarre region’s Pamplona city.
How to Order Pinchos (Pintxos)
One of the most interesting aspects of eating these Spanish snacks is how you order them—it’s different from the way one typically orders in a bar or restaurant.
For ordering, you usually choose from the vast variety of pinchos kept in trays on bar counters. These are called ‘cold pinchos’ and can be eaten at room temperature. You can take an empty plate from the bar counter or ask for one and serve yourself. Sometimes, you can point out your choice and the bartender places it on your plate.
The other way is to order them is from a menu that may be written on a board or otherwise. These are typically the ‘warm pinchos’ that are cooked as you order them and served on the spot.
You can choose to remain in one bar and try their range of pinchos. Or follow the local tradition and go bar-hopping as bars are located in close proximity to each other especially in places like San Sebastian.
How to Pay for Pinchos
Since ordering pinchos or pintxos usually involves self-service from the counter without having to place an order except for warm pinchos, the payment system is also unique. The most common way to pay your bill is by keeping the sticks/skewers from your chosen pinchos, so the waiter can add them up to calculate your bill.
In other places, the staff amazingly remembers what each customer has ordered and asked them to pay accordingly. In a few bars, you go by the honor system and tell the bartender what you had ordered and pay the tab.
Best Traditional Pincho Recipes
While some pinchos are simple, others can be more elaborate. Either way, they are delicious! You can try these traditional pintxo recipes at home for a taste of Spain.
1. Angulas (Young Eels) Pintxo
Angulas (or elvers) are small eels about 2 to 3 inches long and one of Basque’s rare delicacies. There are plenty of ways to prepare angulas, but traditionally they are fried in olive oil with red peppers and garlic.
Due to how expensive angulas are, another alternative is gulas, which is a minced fish paste shaped into angulas and can be usually bought in markets.
These worm-like eels might be off-putting for some, but it is a definite must-add to your weird food bucket list!
2. Bacon-Wrapped Dates Pintxo
One of the best Spanish Pintxos to eat, simply because who doesn’t love some bacon?!? The bacon-wrapped dates are straightforward to prepare and cook, making it a wonderful dish to serve when you have company.
Although they look like little cigars, the sweet and soft dates coupled with the saltiness of bacon are a delight for the taste buds!
3. Pincho de Chorizo y Manchego
Pincho de Chorizo y Manchego is a traditional Pincho dish made with chorizo (Spanish-type pork sausage), Manchego cheese, and olive oil. This recipe is straightforward, and the combination of flavors is simply fantastic!
The chorizo adds a nice smokiness to the dish, while the Manchego adds sharpness and tanginess that complements the chorizo’s soft texture. You can even add tomatoes, salt, or membrillo for more flavors.
4. Chistorra y Padron (Sausage and Peppers)
Its main ingredients are chistorra, a variety of chorizo made of fast-cured minced pork, and padrón peppers, which are small (2-4 inches) with a spiciness ranging from mild to super hot!
The sweet, meaty taste of chistorra complements well with the padrón peppers. And because of the different spiciness levels of the peppers, you’ll never know which ones are super hot, much like a foodie version of Russian Roulette. Still, that doesn’t stop people from grabbing bite after bite of this delicious pincho!
Recipe: Pincho de chistorra by rtve
5. Classic Gilda (Anchovy with Pickled Green Peppers)
The Classic Gilda is another of Basque Country’s most popular pinchos and is usually served in bars and taverns. It is made of Spanish anchovies, Manzanilla olives, and pickled guindilla/piparra peppers (or alternatively, peperoncino).
Named after the femme fatale character played by Rita Hayworth in the 1946 film Gilda, the dish’s strong, salty, pickled flavor will give you a burst of flavor that will surely draw you in!
6. Croquetas de Papas (Potato Crouquettes)
Potatoes and croquettes are a staple for snacks of different kinds, especially in Spain when it comes to pinchos.
Enter croquetas de papas, deep-fried balls of croquettes with a mashed potato filling on the inside. You can even add in other fillings such as cheese, ham, chicken, and more..
With a texture that is crispy, crunchy, and salty that is oh so familiar, you’ll surely fall in love at first bite!
7. Gambas al Ajillo Pintxo
Gambas al Ajillo Pintxo (Garlic Shrimp Pincho) is a dish you will find in almost every city in Spain, and for a good reason: it is simple and easy to make while also being tasty!
It traditionally consists of cooking shrimp and garlic in olive oil (along with other seasonings like crushed red pepper, paprika, and lemon juice). Crust bread goes well with the dish, especially for sopping up the garlic oil the shrimps are soaked in.
8. Goat Cheese and Caramelized Onion Pintxo
Goat Cheese and Caramelized Onion is a classic pincho that is one of the most popular in San Sebastian in Spain. This pincho will surely make you fall head over heels with its mild, buttery chevre goat cheese and the sweetness of the caramelized onion put on top of some crust bread.
9. Morcilla Cocida Pinchos (Blood Pudding)
Traditional Morcilla (blood pudding) is made without typical ground meat, consisting only of Horcal onions, rice, lard, pork blood, and spices. It is typically served uncooked and eaten as a snack like pinchos or as part of a meal.
The blend of flavors inside the morcilla topped with fried quail eggs makes it another popular choice in bars and restaurants.
10. Pinchos de Tortilla (Spanish Omelette)
Pincho de tortilla is a traditional Spanish appetizer made of Spanish tortilla (similar to an italian frittata) that is sliced and skewered with a toothpick on a piece of bread. The ingredients include potatoes, eggs, onions, olive oil, and salt.
A fun fact about this pincho is that it is also a trusty cure for hangovers, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying this dish any time of the day!
Recipe: Pinchos de tortilla by Thermomix
11. Pinchos Morunos (Spanish Pork Skewers)
A pincho moruno is a pincho wherein the meat is skewered and grilled, similar to a kebab. Pork and chicken are the most popular choice for the dish, however, you can also use other meats like beef or lamb.
The skewers are cooked over a charcoal grill on both sides and served with a simple tomato sauce to a more complex huevos sauce.
Recipe: Pinchos Morunos by Lauren Aloise
12. Pintxo of Chiabatta with Cooked Ham, Cheese and Pickle
It may look like your typical ham and cheese sandwich on a skewer, but what separates it from the usual is the use of (toasted) ciabatta as the bread. Aside from being an easy dish to prepare and serve, it goes well with a glass of red wine.
If you want to add something extra, you may add some pickles on top of the bread slices, giving your pincho more flavor and taste. You can also try different cheeses and hams for a different taste.
13. Pintxos with Spanish Ham and Salami
When it comes to tapas and pinchos in general, one of their most regularly used ingredients is Spanish ham (jamón). If you have never tried this type of ham before, you’re definitely missing out, as it is one of the most delicious hams you will get to taste!
One such recipe for Spanish ham is adding a thin slice of it with Spanish salami, bread, and other ingredients like cream cheese and many more.
14. Piquillo Peppers Stuffed with Tuna
This is one of the most famous Spanish pinchos. It is made of mild red chili peppers, called piquillo peppers, stuffed with tuna and garnished with chopped parsley, bread crumbs, and lemon juice.
The result? A sweet, mildly spicy treat that will surely be a hit for everybody!
15. Pintxo de Pulpo (Octopus)
The pintxo de pulpo is one of the most popular (if not the most popular) pintxo dishes. The main ingredient is the octopus (pulpo), cooked in a marinade of vinegar, garlic, olive oil, and more.
It is a great appetizer (or even as a main course) and goes pretty well with txakoli, a type of white wine.
16. Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Pintxo
Smoked salmon and cream cheese is a traditional Basque dish that is incredibly good. Even though cream cheese is not something that you will see in its traditional recipe, it adds a nice creamy texture to the fish and is an exciting combination that you should try.
17. Pintxo de Txaka
Pintxo de Txaka is one of Basque Country’s well-loved dishes served in bars and restaurants. It is a simple pincho to make that is both attractive and delicious, made up of crab or surimi sticks (txaka) mixed with mayonnaise and served on top of some slices of bread.
18. Yellowfin Tuna Salad with Anchovies
A slice of crispy, long bread is stuffed on top with a Yellowfin Tuna Salad with onion, mayonnaise, and lemon juice, and topped with an anchovy fillet in this Basque-inspired pinchos recipe.
Not only is the dish easy to prepare, but it is also great for those who are looking to have something healthy to snack on.
19. Pincho Ensaladilla Rusa
This delicious dish can be traced back to its roots in Russia. Given its popularity in other countries, it found its way into the traditional cookbooks in Spain and is now enjoyed by people looking for pinchos or tapas.
It consists of ensaladilla rusa (Russian salad) placed on a piece of baguette and topped with anchovies. Given its versatility, there are also slight variations of the dish depending on the location.
20. Pincho de Champiñon
Pincho de Champiñon is a traditional and straightforward Basque dish made from a combination of small mushrooms (most commonly champignon mushroom), garlic, parsley, olive oil, white wine vinegar, paprika, and salt.
A typical dish consists of three mushrooms skewered by a toothpick, but may sometimes be put on top of a piece of bread first.
Going bar hopping for pinchos and drinks are a fun way to enjoy one of the best food experiences and understand the local culture. If you are planning a trip to Spain, don’t forget to include Basque country in your itinerary especially if you are a foodie.
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