There’s something to be said about wandering the streets with your friends, roaming from one bar to another whiling away the night. Similar to pub crawls but with actual food involved, the txikiteo, also referred to as tapeando in Castilian Spain, is a integral part of local culture. I personally like the Basque name better, if only because it’s more fun to pronounce (chickie-te-o). The concept is great from a economic and practical stand point. Going from place to place ensures that proprietors get business. And since a lot of storefronts are small, they can fine tune their kitchen to focus on certain specialties rather than having to provide an extensive menu. For me, I get to try everything, no full commitment needed.
And as the Basque’s are known for having elevated the txikiteo experience to an art form, I brushed up on my bar hopping etiquette lest I offend the masters. I’ll admit, I was intimidated by some of rules of engagement that I read. Some of it was standard such as don’t stay in one spot for two long or find your way to the bar to place an order. Sure, as a patron, I am obligated to contribute to table turn and wrestle my way to the bar. Other rules were quizzical. One of them said to throw the napkins on the floor when you are done (not all establishments do this by the way, look down and around for evidence before you practice this rule). I guess they just want to make clean up as minimal and as efficient as possible.
And then the one that made me a little nervous. You go to a bar, order a drink and then take the food you want and just keep track and own up at the end when you pay. This was different. I’m used to placing an order and the only time we have something like this is at a buffet. Seems simple enough but in practice, it takes a lot of getting used to, especially if you are new to the txikiteo scene.
Even after all the practice I had, I’m still not quite an expert so obviously, I will need to go back to Spain for more. Who’s going with me? Come now, the exchange rates are good and the flights are cheap! Oh right, you guys have jobs and no time. Don’t rub your fat paychecks in my face.
Fine. Let me torture you with some highlights of my dining adventure.
La Cuchara de San Telmo in Donostia-San Sebastián off the happening street of 31 de Augosto is known for their risotto and foie. Their website is kind of hokey in a clip art, animation school kind of way but so long as they can cook as damn well as they do, I could care less about their webmastering skills. The place is tiny and was full of locals the night we went. I definitely had to stick my elbows out to get through to the bar. No way was anyone going to deny me my little seared slice of heaven. This was also the first place that I tried that addictive thing called txakoli, a refreshing green wine popular in Basque country. I thought I had matured my palate to smooth, full-bodied reds but a sip of crisp txakoli brought me right back to the seductive vibrance of virgin whites.
Txakoli is supposed to be poured from a height to unlock its perky essence and here, I was trying to capture the big dude behind the bar as he poured but he was all business and way too fast for my camera. I kicked myself for not bringing back a few bottles but I did find some at various SF stores so I can continue to indulge in my txakoli fix.
Canelon with a mousse of morcilla. The pasta was perfectly al dente and the mousse soft and creamy.
Next up, a tender piece of octopus. Olive oil makes everything tasty.
And the finally, the foie with apples. A perfectly seared, melt in your mouth, piece of heaven.
I know what you’re thinking. Geez girl, that must have been expensive having the drinks and the foie. You could have saved more money by switching to Geico. This is why I love Spanish bar culture. This whole thing was around 13 Euros. I kid you not.
In Bilbao, I indulged in some jamón ibérico. It’s a million times better than prosciutto in terms of flavor, texture, and general umami-ness. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good prosciutto but a piece of ibérico is on a different plane. This only looks like a lot of jamón but the three of us polished it off pretty quickly.
I liked this place if only because they are called Huevo’s Fritos (Fried eggs) and I *heart* eggs!
There was more food but most of the time, it wasn’t on the plate long enough for me to take pictures and I’m just going to make myself hungry again.