Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Tapas or pinchos are our favorite food in Spain

Typical snacks at a bar include all kinds of concoctions like deviled ham on bread with a little slice of salmon, a few small shrimp with veggies in a sauce on a crust of bread, a mini-hamburger, some olives, some peanuts with lemon juice, curried chicken, a bit of paella, some Iberian ham and cheese, a slice of spanish tortilla (a potato-egg pie), a slice of pizza or almost anything you can imagine. Unlike traditional tapas, which were a very small snack offered free as a courtesy with every drink, these cost $1.50 to $2.50 apiece. Two people can make a meal out of four of them.

Some places call these little snacks tapas, others call them pinchos. They are very popular in the tourist locations. In this bar in San Sebastian, on the north coast in Basque country, many of the tapas are made from haddock, shrimp, squid, octopus, anchovies, oysters, mussels and sardines. Here is a pretty good history of tapas.

At the public markets, many of the stands offer fresh fish displayed on ice. You point and the lady will wrap it up for you, maybe gutting it first if necessary. This market was in Santander.
San Sebastian is close to the French border, in the heart of Basque country. Santander is in Cantabria. It’s a 2 1/2-hour bus ride between the two.

We let the restaurants prepare fish for us, but in the public markets we would stock up on fruit, bread (the long bars or flutes), nuts and some vegetables like carrots. Peaches and apricots had a tender texture unlike the the tennis-ball hardness we’re used to in the States. We also bought plums, pears, bananas, strawberries and cherries. Toasted and salted almonds bought in these markets were the best I have ever tasted. Maybe because of their freshness.

About two dozen guys in wet suits, flippers and goggles dove into the harbor in San Sebastian and took off for the other side, supervised by some guys with Red Cross jackets. It would have been about a half-mile or mile swim. We think it was lifeguard fitness training.

San Sebastian lies in an amphitheater of hills facing the sea, which makes for a dramatic setting (pun intended). If you look very, very closely, you’ll see that there are topless bathers on this beach in San Sebastian.

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