Everything You Need to Know About El Txikiteo

pintxos-kalimotxos

Pintxos and kalimotxos in San Sebastián

It doesn’t take long after one’s arrival to Basque Country to discover that Basque culture is distinct from Spanish culture. This shouldn’t come as a shock, since historically, Basques and Spanish are different people–but you’ll still find the odd tourist wondering where they could see a flamenco show in Bilbao (not to say it’s not possible, it’s just not at all common like in Andalucía.) 

As I’m nearly 6 months into my new life in Basque Country, I’ve discovered a few cultural traditions that I didn’t experience down in Southern Spain, the first of which is El Txikiteo (also known as Poteo).

spanish-beer-and-wine

Spanish beer and wine

What is El Txikiteo?

El Txikiteo is the simple act of a group of friends (called a cuadrilla here) getting together to ir de pintxos from bar to bar while drinking small glasses of wine or cider (txikitos), or a small serving of beer (zurito). It’s bar-hopping at it’s finest; sampling delicious local wines and specialties of the region, catching up with friends and family, and getting to try out a varied selection of bars in the area. Since they say that The Basque Country has more bars and restaurants than many European Union countries have as a whole, there’s no shortage of  places to txikitear.

pintxos, tapas, basque country

Grab all the pintxos you want directly from the bar!

When Can You Txikitear?

El Txikiteo is for the midday and evening, from about noon-3pm and 7-11pm.

Deep-fried artichoke, wrapped in bacon.

Deep-fried artichoke, wrapped in bacon.

Where in Spain can you Txikitear?

El Txikiteo is mostly done in The Basque Country, Navarra, La Rioja, Cantabria and in the northern part of Burgos.

Why Txikitear?

El Txikiteo is a social institution that’s designed for friends and family to meet up outside of the home over sips and small bites, before a sit-down meal. While it’s origins are unclear, it’s certain that it was designed to relieve the stresses of daily life!

People off to txikitear in San Sebastián

People off to txikitear in San Sebastián

How to Txikitear

Meet with your friends in one of the many zonas de pintxos; located in every Basque city (and nearly every town too!) You’ll know you’ve found a good one when you see lots of bars packed into a small area, locals with drinks in hand and a bar that’s almost too busy to take your order. Almost.

Often, friends will elect one friend to be in charge of el bote–the money that everyone pools together to ir de pinchos. This guy or gal will be the one responsible for paying the group’s tab in each location.

Then, you’ll head straight to the bar, pluck whatever pintxos tickle your fancy straight off the bar itself, order yourself a txikito or zurito, and throw your napkins to the floor when done. Yes, really! In a few minutes be ready to repeat the process all over again in the next bar…and again, and again. Bar-hopping in Basque Country is fun, fast-paced and not for the faint of heart.

De pinchos en Plaza Nueva, Bilbao

De pinchos en Plaza Nueva, Bilbao

My favorite places to Txikitear:

Bilbao

  • Calle del Maestro García Rivero
  • Calle Licenciado Pozas
  • Plaza Nueva (in the Casco Viejo)
  • Calle Somera (also in the Casco Viejo)

San Sebastián

  • Calle 31 de Agosto
  • Calle Pescadería
  • Barrio de Gros
  • Anywhere in the Parte Vieja!

Vitoria

  • Calle Eduardo Dato
  • Plaza España

 

Cafe Iruña, Bilbao: Pinchos Morunos

cafe-iruna-bilbao

There’s a Basque saying that succinctly sums up the culture:

Nola jan jakitea, nahikoa jakitea da.

To know how to eat is to know enough.

If you’ve ever been to Basque Country, or met a Basque person, chances are, you’ve discovered they’re super passionate about food. Everyone’s a foodie. Conversations about food come up regularly, and social gatherings aren’t complete without an array of pintxos (the Basque bigger-and-better version of tapas) within close grasp.

When I head to Bilbao, I make a bee-line for Café Iruña.

Café-Iruña-Bilbao

When you walk through the door of this ample space, an establishment of over 100 years old, you’ll notice it’s tiled wall-to-wall with gorgeous tile-work of surprisingly (very non-Basque) sherry from Jerez.

Cafe-Iruna-Bilbao

Though it’s beautiful, your attention (and sense of smell) will soon guide you to the corner where you’ll find someone manning the grill, underneath a sign that claims these are the best pintxos of their kind the whole world over. How very Basque to make a claim like that!

Café-Iruña-Pinchos-Morunos

But, as exaggerated as the Basques may be, they’re not kidding around when they’re talking about this pintxo. Called the Pincho Moruno, it’s a perfectly seasoned, perfectly tender lamb kebab, grilled to, well, perfection!

Cafe-Iruna-Bilbao-Pinchos-Morunos

I take all of my guests here. And if you’re ever in Bilbao, take yourself to Café Iruña (Calle Berástegui 4), order the Pincho Moruno and thank me later.

(My 2nd place pinxto award goes to the grilled and seasoned mushrooms at Bar Motrikes (Somera 41) in the Casco Viejo. You’re welcome!)

Bilbao (or as the locals say: El Centro del Mundo)

There’s many reasons to love Bilbao. Some surrender themselves to the famous Basque cuisine served up all over town, while others are enchanted by the rolling green hills that surround the city or its brown-sugar sand beaches.

I personally love Bilbao because in some ways it reminds me of Seattle with its moody weather, proud locals and abundant greenery…but with much, MUCH better public transportation. Seriously. The subway system in Bilbao is so efficient, my car-less, bus-riding self would move there for that reason alone.

It also doesn’t hurt that this city is full of great shopping, home to two of the best pintxos I’ve tried in my life thus far (which is a shockingly high number by now) and is freakishly clean.

Living in a city in Spain where many of the locals are too lazy to pick up their dog’s sh*t, I appreciate a clean city when I see one. So thank you, Bilbao.

Of course, the Guggenheim is always a highlight when stopping in Bilbao. Just don’t judge me that I’ve never actually entered the place…

Café con leche is a must on an overcast (read: typical) day in Basque Country.

The red and white-striped banners are in support of the local football (soccer for my fellow Amerrricans) team: Athletic Bilbao. They recently made an appearance in the UEFA Finals and are set to play against F.C. Barcelona in the Copa del Rey in Madrid in 2 weeks—which I’m going to!

This is the Río Nervion which cuts through the city. Another reason why I love Bilbao: close to the water!

Green space is another vital necessity to city living.

More Athletic support.

And you already know, I can’t resist pretty doors.