A Short Guide to Pintxos


When it comes to Spain and cuisine, one of the first things that will spring to mind is the infamous tapas; the world-famous bar snacks which come in a variety of forms and flavours. What many people don’t realise, and are seriously missing out on, is that the northern city of Bilbao offers a gastronomic alternative known as pintxos (pronounced “peen sho”).

Bilbao is located in the Basque region, and is fiercely independent from the rest of the nation in many respects, including bar snacks. Pintxos can vary in size, but they are generally larger than tapas and served on a piece of bread with a toothpick or skewer pierced through the middle. They form the gastronomic backbone behind the city of Bilbao – and some would even say they are better than the Spanish mainland’s equivalent.

Pullmantur offer a range of Iberia, Mediterranean and Northern Europe cruise itineraries that can take you to the stunning city of Bilbao. For this week’s blog, we’ve devised a short guide to enjoying pintxos within the Basque region.



To understand pintxos, it is necessary to first understand tapas. One theory for the origin of tapas dates back to the 19th century, during the reign of King Alfonso XIII of Spain. During an official visit to Cadiz, in Southern Spain, the king was enjoying a glass of wine before an almighty gust of wind sent his cup awry. The barman placed a slice of Iberian ham over the glass, which was coined the tapa (cover).

After this, tapas spread around southern Spain and, following the introduction of train and car routes, made its way to the Basque region via holidaymakers. However, by the time they made it to the Basque region, the tapas had evolved into something consisting of fine ingredients and that could be eaten without cutlery.

One of the first things that will enable you to distinguish a tapa from a pintxo is the large toothpick emerging out of each item. The word “pincho” is Spanish for spike and, in addition to holding stacks of ingredients together, forms the basis of Basque cuisine. Pintxos, in general, also tend to be larger than their tapas counterparts. They often consist of a number of ingredients on top of a slice of bread but can extend to single mouthfuls and even small plates.

How can you try these culinary delights? Wander anywhere within Bilbao’s old town, and you’ll find a vast collection of bars, most of which will have a section of the bar covered with plates of pintxos. Simply pick up a plate and select what you want to eat, before washing it all down with a refreshing glass of wine. Their position at the bar, combined with how easy they are to eat, makes them a fantastic tool for socialising.

Types of Pintxo


Whatever you encounter and however you decide to eat, Basque barkeepers go to great measures to ensure only the freshest local produce is used. Some of the more common pintxos will consist of hake or cod placed on top of a piece of crusty bread. Other popular pintxos include stuffed peppers, and croquettes, which are filled with a variety of ingredients.

One of the first pintxos to surface in the Basque region was the gilda, which consists of a combination of pickled peppers, anchovies and olives; all of which is placed on a toothpick. The saltiness and heat of this winning combination sparked an era of gastronomic creativity.

More inspirational creations include sea urchins stuffed with melted cheese, small hamburgers with crisps, risotto and crab cakes. You may even encounter unusual dishes such as pig ear with romesco sauce, turkey neck and even anchovy Oreos.

Exploring each destination via its local cuisine can provide a fun, exciting and delicious insight. Whether you enjoy tasting your way through each port of call, learning about the history, or simply relaxing on a beach with a cocktail; the best way to travel is via a cruise with Pullmantur.

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