Northern Spain Part II: Pincho me, I think I’m dreaming… (Laura)
Pincho, or “Pintxo” (wikipedia)= a snack typically eaten in bars with friends and relatives, traditional in northern Spain and especially popular in the Basque country… and with the McLivelys.
Northern Spain has the reputation of having the BEST food in a country where you will eat well anywhere you go, so we were really excited to start eating our way along the coast. It only took one stop at a pintxo bar before we fell in love. First of all, each bar has between 6 to 20 different types of pintxos on display, each one skewered with a toothpick onto a piece of bread. Unlike America where every food is scanned, bar-coded and tabulated, their system is based on the honor code– you just pick up whatever pintxos you want and then when you’re ready to leave you count your toothpicks and tell the bar tender what you had. I love this Lockesian view of consumers.
Of the 50 or so pintxos we tried in four days, here’s the Hall of Fame: cod with onion confit; jamon serrano with goat cheese and apricot marmelade; crab salad; skewer of a pickle stuffed with bonito tuna and wrapped in a roasted pepper and anchovy; ham popsicle (cured ham on a stick, coated in bechamel, breaded and fried); tiny spaghetti-sized eels sauteed in garlic and chili; and octopus in paprika.
We did do some things besides eat. We stopped in Comillas and visited the “Caprichio de Gaudi”, a beautifully unique home he designed (the only one he designed outside of Catalunya). The theme of the home is sunflowers, not only in the obvious sunflower tiles on the exterior of the house, but also in the overall layout of the rooms which, like a sunflower, follow the movement of the sun based on the room’s purpose (bedroom on the east side to wake up with the sun, dining room on the south side to enjoy the sun during the large afternoon meal, and salon on the west side to enjoy the sunset).
Mike got us a beautiful room in a rural house that was in the middle of Basque countryside. There was quite literally one bar in this town, and then a few houses and sheep… GORGEOUS. From here we were in a great spot to explore the countyside and coastline for a few days.
Nearby was the town of Gernika, the town portrayed in Picasso’s famous painting “Guernica.” Hitler, under Franco’s approval, obliterated the town and its innocent civilians in an airstrike that was the first example of “total war” in our history. The town is completely reconstructed now and is quite beautiful, but our visit to the “Peace Museum” was a sobering experience.
Next we did a driving and hiking route through the villages of the northern coast. One of the highlights was the small town of Mundaka, where every space close to the water was filled with “opportunistic sunbathers,” local townspeople taking advantage of the uncharacteristically sunny coastal day.
Despite the fact that we were running all over, hiking, and “aprovecharing” our time here, we still felt like we got into the slower, quieter style of life here where you have time to sit on a park bench, take a walk through the countryside, and sip pacharan with a friendly bartender.
Next, we headed on to Bilbao and San Sebastian, but more on that in the next post.