Recently I was fortunate enough to spend a week eating and drinking in the beautiful Basque seaside town of San Sebastian in northern Spain. San Sebastian is home to numerous Michelin starred restaurants and world renowned for its cuisine. Iberico ham, cured anchovies, olive oil marinated tuna, pequillo peppers, flaky breakfast pastries, and café con leche (made with whole milk that tastes like what milk in the US probably tasted like 50 years ago) are just a few of the delicacies we sampled.
Despite all of the delicious, unapologetically full-fat food, most of the residents of San Sebastian were at normal weight. I am convinced the reason, besides relying on feet and bicycles for transportation, is portion size. Eating pinxtos, or tapas, is a way of life in San Sebastian. La Parta Vieja, or the Old Part, of San Sebastian is a labyrinth of narrow cobblestone streets lined with pinxto bars, some no bigger than a college dormroom. Inside a staggering array of snacks line the bar (slices of baguette draped with Iberico ham and anchovies, bite-size quiche, deviled eggs) and hot pinxtos can be ordered from a chalkboard menu behind the bar (garlicky mushrooms, seared foie gras, and shrimp and bacon skewers). For around 5 euros, one can have a very substantial snack and a glass of wine. Patrons eat what they please and pay the bartender before they leave.
Every night around 8 o’clock, everyone from young professionals to construction workers to grandparents hand in hand flood the streets and begin the ritual of socializing, snacking, and drinking. The pinxto bar experience is about meeting up with friends and unwinding at the end of the day, having a nibble every now and then, and enjoying good, yet inexpensive, wine. Their way of life is slower and they value relationships and good quality food as opposed to seeing value in huge portions scarfed quickly while rushing off to the next appointment. To me, the beauty of this style of eating is that you can try a wide variety of gourmet edibles without spending a lot of money or filling up very quickly. It’s like one big cocktail party every single night.
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