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Spanish Pintxos vs. Tapas

tapas vs pintxos

The Spanish know how to live, with afternoon siestas and dinners that don’t start until 10 pm. They also know how to eat, with the genius small bites that allow you to sample one of each. You’ve heard of tapas, but have you met the pintxos? What’s the difference between pintxos and tapas? We answer your questions here, along with a few inspired recipes.

A Tapas History

Tapas are a social food, the kind to be enjoyed with plenty of friends and with plenty of drinks. So, next time you want to impress a certain culinary crowd, whip out your knowledge of the difference between pintxos and tapas for fun. Here’s one: Tapas come from the Spanish word tapar, meaning “to cover.” Even better, one legend says that on a windy day, a bartender covered a drink with a slice of ham to keep dirt from entering the glass. And the tapas were born. The rest is history.

Most accounts say tapas originated in Andalucía, though many different regions of Spain claim to be the true birthplace of the Spanish tradition. Another popular story hails King Alfonso X as the tapas’ creator. The story goes that in the 13th century, the king was recovering from an illness and could only eat and drink in small amounts. After regaining his health and becoming fond of this food-to-drink ratio, he declared that all drinks be served with something to eat. Whoever the true father of tapas may be, we hope he knows we are forever grateful.

Pinxtos La Gilda

All About Pintxos

So, now we’ve provided some tapas folklore, what’s the difference between pintxos and tapas? If you want to drum up an argument in a Spanish tavern, call a pintxo a tapa. The two may look the same to an untrained eye, but there are a few key differences between pintxos and tapas. With pintxos, it’s all about the toothpick. The wooden spears not only hold the small bites together but also act as a form of currency. At the end of your meal, the toothpicks get tallied up and that number becomes your bill total.

Where tapar means “to cover”, the Basque word pintxo means “to pierce.” Some pintxos are served on a bread base with the toothpick holding the toppings to the carb. A traditional pintxo, though, is as simple as an olive and anchovy stacked together on a tiny piece of wood. This was actually the original pintxos, known as the Gilda. Pintxos are also enjoyed more individually than tapas, which are meant to be shared by a group. Plus, a toothpick is a little trickier to split than a check.

Spanish tortilla tapas
Spanish tortilla, a classic choice for tapas

Our Favorite Tapas

When we want tapas, we’re heading to Mallorca where dinner at La Rosa Vermutería is basically a no-brainer. These might be fighting words (especially with those who love Casa Dani), but this restaurant’s Spanish tortillas may just be the best in the country. It’s as simple as it gets, made with just potatoes, eggs, onions, and plenty of olive oil. Here’s how to recreate the classic tapas at home.

Ingredients

2 lbs. Yukon gold potatoes
Salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8 large eggs
1 large onion, julienned
Good quality extra virgin olive oil

tapas ingredients

Directions

Begin by peeling your potatoes and rinsing them under cold water. Next, slice the potatoes using a mandolin, about ½ cm thick. Pat the potato slices dry before tossing them in a large bowl with plenty of salt and pepper.

Next, heat ½ inch of extra virgin olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-low. Once the oil is hot, add the potatoes in even layers. Add more oil if necessary, making sure the potatoes are covered. Fry the potatoes for about 20 minutes at low heat.

While the potatoes cook, beat together your eggs in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. In a separate frying pan, add a few tablespoons of oil over medium-low. Add the onion, seasoning lightly with salt, and let caramelize for about 20 minutes.

Once the onions are caramelized, drain off any excess oil and add the onions to the egg mixture. After the potatoes have finished frying, use a slotted spoon to carefully transfer them to a strainer. Let the potatoes cool while the excess oil filters out.

After a few minutes, add the potatoes to the egg mixture. Let this sit for about 20 minutes. Next, remove the oil from the same pan you used to fry the potatoes. Transfer the mixture back to the pan and cook over medium-low heat for about 6-8 minutes per side. Run a rubber spatula along the edges of the pan to keep the tortilla from sticking.

Spanish tortilla tapas

 

Once the bottom is cooked through, take a large plate and place it over the pan. Moving quickly (and confidently!), flip the pan over, sliding the tortilla onto the plate. Let cool for a few minutes before cutting, and enjoy.

Our Favorite Pintxos

The best way to get to know the city of San Sebastian is through its pintxos. In fact, poteando is a staple activity here. It’s essentially bar hopping, but with the added fun of trying new pintxos at each stop on the crawl. And there’s no better place to get familiar with this unique gastronomy experience than at Mimo, San Sebastian’s premier cooking school. To call their introduction to pintxos a “cooking class” is a bit of an understatement. The immersive, five-hour experience starts with a guided trip to the market. Once your ingredients are bought, guests swing by the team at Mimo’s favorite stall to grab a Gilda– San Sebastian’s most quintessential pintxo. And before the cooking even starts, you’ll stop by a bar for a pintxos and wine lunch. For some inspiration, of course. The day rounds off with a hands-on cooking class led by expert chefs complete with seasonally inspired recipes. Here’s just one of Mimo’s pintxo favorites, a slight spin on La Gilda.

Pinxtos Matrimonio de Anchoas

Mimo’s Matrimonio de Anchoas (Marinated Anchovies Pintxo)

Ingredients

1 roasted, peeled, and seeded red pepper, finely diced
1 roasted, peeled, and seeded green pepper, finely diced
10 jarred anchovy filets in oil
10 marinated white anchovy filets
1 good quality, crusty baguette

Directions

In a small bowl, mix together both the red and green roasted and diced peppers. Next, arrange your bread slices on a platter. Place a small spoonful of the pepper mixture on top of each piece of bread, spreading it out evenly. Next, arrange one oil-packed anchovy and one white anchovy filet on top of each piece of bread. Pierce with a toothpick to hold everything together, and serve.

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