Tapas vs. Pintxos: Why Not Both?

What are tapas?

I admit it. I’m a nibbler. A grazer. A taster. And nowhere is a better sanctuary for people like me than Spain. Perhaps you’ve heard of tapas. They are quite trendy in many high-end restaurants here in the States, but in Spain, tapas are small bites that you enjoy at the bar, in the marketplace, or on the street. These “small bites” are sustenance–the oomph you need to make it until your 11 p.m. dinner reservation.

But if that’s a tapa, what’s a pintxo?

Answer: basically the same thing.

Once upon a time, a pintxo (as these small bites are known in the Basque region) was pierced with a toothpick. Because pinchar means “to pierce” in Spanish, the name pincho or pintxo (sounds the same) stuck. Even though the toothpicks may no longer be present, if you are in a San Sebastian bar, you can rest assured that little toastie topped with protein (by way of land or sea) is a pintxo.

When you find yourself elsewhere in Spain–Madrid, Grenada, Andalusia–that small bite (with or without the bread) is a tapa.


Make sense? Good. Now here’s what you need to know:

  • Sometimes your tapas or pintxos will be FREE!!! YES!!!! Many bars make these small bites available at the counter to their patrons at no charge. Some places will expect a Euro for each bite, but that seems perfectly reasonable considering these are super yummy compliments to your wine, beer, or txakoli. That kinda makes the American system of peanuts and pretzels a bit of a downer, no?
  • The best.thing.ever that you must do in Spain is go on a Tapas Tour. This has practically become a non-negotiable with my clients traveling to Spain. A Tapas Tour is not going to take you to sample the ho-hum ham + cheese, no sir. We are talking about a local guide taking you to sample the finest pairings of tapas, wines, and vermouths in the city. Not only are the foods inventive and exciting, but the guides I contract use the tour as an opportunity to educate you about the culture and traditions of Spain. Uh…can you say FOOD | WINE | CULTURE | JETLAG???
  • When you’re ready to partake of pintxos at a bar, there’s one thing you really need to know: ask for a plate. “But why? Can’t I just pick it up and pop it in my mouth?” Well, you could, but you run the risk of angering your bartender who intends to serve you (as opposed to serving yourself)…and I make it a point never to anger my bartender. So, by asking for a plate, you eliminate the awkwardness. If the bartender keeps the plate and looks at you, simply point and make your selection. If he hands it over, you may grab at will. Just remember how many delicacies you eat in case he asks you later. Remember, if they aren’t free, they’re probably on the honor system.

So now that I’ve gotten your appetite sufficiently whetted, when do we leave for Spain? I would love to design your custom foodie trip or wine tour to this beautiful country. Got a special celebration coming up? Spain is my #1 pick for places to travel with friends.