You probably know what Spanish tapas are. And you may have had the opportunity to try them more than once. But, have you ever heard of pintxos? Less known internationally, pintxos are also small bites eaten in Spain. You are just about to find out more about what they are. Depending on the part of Spain that you visit, people may say that pintxos and tapas are pretty much the same thing. However, some slim nuances make all the difference, just like spotting authentic paella recipes.
OK, so pintxos and tapas are not the same thing but, what are the main differences?
1. Where to find tapas and pintxos
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Formed by 17 autonomous communities, Spanish culture is very diverse and so is its gastronomy. And almost every province has particular ways of cooking. But, without getting into too much detail, we can talk about three big gastronomic areas in Spain: the northern or Atlantic coast, the Mediterranean coast, and central Spain.
While tapas originate from the center of Spain, pintxos are traditional from the Basque Country. The autonomous community located in Northern Spain has a strong identity and culture being the Basque cuisine a very important part of it. The region even has its own language. And that’s exactly why you may see the word spelled in two different ways: ‘pinchos’ in Spanish and ‘pintxos’ in Basque. The pintxos culture has spread out and, nowadays, you can find them in many bars along the north of the Iberian Peninsula.
2. How to identify a tapa and a pintxo
If you are not sure if you are about to eat a tapa or a pintxo, this is how the two look like. Spanish tapas are presented on a plate, and they are normally a small version of some of the most typical Spanish dishes. For instance, paella or patatas bravas. Whereas, pintxos are most commonly served on a small bread base with a toothpick spearing some delight on top, like jamón, cheese, mushrooms or chorizo. Or a combination of all of them.
3. Etymological origins
Many people know what a ‘tapa’ is but very few know the actual origins of the word ‘tapa’. This neat info takeaway will be very useful when you are travelling to Spain as even locals are unaware of this tip!
TAKEAWAY: ‘Tapar’ in Spanish means ‘to cover’ and the term dates back hundreds of years. Back then, the ham legs that hung in bars would attract swarms of flies. Bartenders used to give a free plate of ham or chorizo to customers when they ordered a glass of wine, and they would use this plate of meat as a covering for the drink to protect it from the insects.
And from this humble origin, tapas have been perfected by the Spaniards to become a cornerstone of their culture. On the other hand, ‘pintxo’ in Basque language or ‘pincho’ in Spanish comes from the verb ‘pinchar’ which means ‘to pierce’. Traditionally, pintxos came with a cocktail stick skewering the toppings to the bread beneath.
4. Spanish tapas are free, pintxos are not
In some bars in Madrid and other Spanish cities and towns, the tradition has been kept over the years, and you might be lucky enough to get a free tapa served with your drink. Unfortunately, you won’t get a free pintxo anywhere. Although not very expensive, pintxos are always paid for.
5. Tapas have gone internationally and pintxos stay local
Both tapas and pintxos have evolved enormously over the years. Influenced by modern cuisines tendencies and tough competition, chefs have transformed pintxos and tapas into authentic art pieces. Whereas pintxos are very appreciated locally, they are not very well-known outside the borders. Conversely, Spanish tapas are served all over the world; you may have even seen them in some Asian and fusion restaurants throughout the globe. The truth is that, nowadays, more and more Basque restaurants are opening abroad offering pintxos, but the expansion is considerably slower.
6. Where to order tapas and pintxos
In Spain, you can generally order tapas from the table in most bars and restaurants. However, when you’re going for a pintxo feast, you will need to order them from the bar, as pintxos are displayed on the counter, and you can see and pick out the ones you want. Basque residents normally have a few pintxos at the bar and then move on to the next bar to have some more.
7. How to eat tapas and pintxos
As you probably know, in Spain tapas are normally shared within the group. Locals order a few of them and put them in the middle of the table. Each diner has a small plate and some bread and picks up some food from one tapa or another.
However, pintxos are eaten individually. They are so small that they would be difficult to share. Each person orders and eats his or her own pinchos, generally presented on a small piece of bread.
As you can see, there are modest but significant differences between the two. Now when you visit Spain, you can tell your travel friends your in-depth understanding about tapas and pintxos and how do the locals enjoy them. In fact, you now know more about Spanish tapas and pintxos than many locals, so hopefully, all this gastronomic knowledge will help you make the most out of your next foodie experience in Spain.