Tapas and pintxos are traditional Spanish dishes served on small plates at bars. In Spain, friends and families will linger at bars for hours, enjoying the day’s gossip and eating freshly made pintxos, pronounced peen-tchos, and tapas. These dishes have become better known over the years, and now, they are incredibly popular worldwide.
"Tapas!" by Terence Lim via Flickr / CC BY
Differences between Tapas and Pintxos
Pintxos originated in the northern Basque region of Spain, where any small plate is considered a pintxo. Throughout the rest of Spain, small plates are known as tapas, and pintxos are the name given to tapas served on a skewer or a stick. Pintxo comes from the Spanish verb pinchar¸ which means ‘to pierce.’
"Pintxos Basques" by Nicolas Vollmer via Flickr / CC BY
You also pay for tapas and pintxos differently. In many parts of Spain, you get a free tapa when you order a drink, but you will always pay for pintxos. Traditionally, the pintxos will be laid out at the bar, and you will go up and choose the ones you want. After you’ve finished eating and drinking, a bartender will count the number of toothpicks used. They will then charge you for that amount of food.
Popular Tapas and Pintxos
If you’re interested in trying some traditional Spanish fare, make a few tapas and pintxos at home. Here is a list of some of the most common tapas and pintxos found throughout Spain.
Banderillas are cold pintxos served on a black willow toothpick. When you’re ready to prepare banderillas, you’ll want to use your favorite pickled vegetables, olives, and marinated fish.
One combo often seen in Basque bars is a green olive, an anchovy, and a few spicy pickled guindilla peppers.
Chorizo and Manchego Pintxo
Chorizo is a classic Spanish sausage, often featured in pintxos. To create this dish, start with a half-inch thick piece of crusty French baguette.
On top of that, layer thin slices of Chorizo sausage and Manchego cheese. Finish by skewering the pintxo with a knotted bamboo toothpick.
Serrano Ham Wrapped Plums
Serrano ham is another classic Spanish pork product, and it's often used in tapas. This spicy and salty ham pairs quite well with a tart plum.
To make this tapa, just wrap a slice of ham around a piece of plum, and secure the meat to the plum with a tapered bamboo toothpick.
Mojo Picon Pork Skewers
Mojo Picon is a sauce made from breadcrumbs, sherry, cumin seeds, olive oil, paprika, garlic, pimento, and cayenne chile.
This Mojo Picon pork dish is served on a square bamboo skewer. The dish is spicy and flavorful, and it pairs well with a glass of Spanish red wine.
Tips for Serving Tapas and Pintxos
Tapas and pintxos are meant to be shared, so the best time to serve them would be at a party or a family gathering. To re-create the feeling of a Spanish bar, lay out the pintxos on a table, and allow guests to go up and choose their favorites. Alongside the tapas and pintxos, serve a traditional Spanish drink, like txakoli - a sparkling Basque wine.
"Pintxando por Abando" by Javier Lastras via Flickr / CC BY
For hundreds of years, Spanish citizens have been gathering at bars where they spend time with their loved ones and snack on a few small plates. If you want to see why these Spanish dishes are so beloved, try re-creating a few classic tapas and pintxos at home.