Fab 40: Pinchos
What we know as tapas are called pinchos (or more colloquially pintxos) in the Basque Country, Spain’s culinary hotspot. The term is derived from the toothpick that is pierced through many of these exquisitely executed, piled-high morsels (to pinchar means to spear), not only keeping them intact, but providing a handy way for busy bartenders to add up the bill; the number of toothpicks left on your empty plate denotes how many you have eaten (honesty is assumed).
In past years, as haute cuisine has taken hold in northern Spain, pinchos have evolved into a gastro phenomenon called Cocina en miniatura (or Cuisine in miniature), elevating the art of the pincho to new heights, sometimes using high-tech cooking methods such as spherification and sous-vide and twisting, curling, shaping and deconstructing the ingredients to edible objects where form, texture, colour and of course flavour are masterfully woven. Regular pincho competitions, keep the standard high.
The pincho has travelled. Most of Spain’s major cities now have at least a handful of Basque-style taverns, where bars are laid high with platters of pinchos and the young white txakoli wine, the traditional pincho accompaniment, flows. Top restaurants offer clients a selection of pinchos as an amuse-bouche, or, if a tasting menu is ordered, as a mini version of their main dishes. But even the most sophisticated foodie would agree that the best place to try them are the winding streets of San Sebastián’s old town, where locals dart from one bar to another, in search of that next pincho high.