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Usually, ordering food in a foreign country is not difficult for us…but, in Hondarribia, Spain, we were having trouble. We had read about pintxos Hondarribia – Basque-style tapas – and I was beyond excited about the concept. I love to try new things, love local twists and need to snack while drinking – it was as if the idea pintxos was created to satisfy just me. The problem was: We were completely lost in food translation!
Our First Attempt Eating Basque Cuisine
Our first attempt at eating Basque cuisine was at a seaside spot. We thought all Hondarribia restaurants served pintxos, but found that the place we chose to eat didn’t have the bite-size Basque cuisine. Instead, we ordered the few things on the menu we could translate: croquettes (served as a platter of six, breaded balls of cheese and ham the size of tater tots), a heaping plate of thick, lightly battered calamari, bread and a bottle of wine. That seemed simple enough, but we were anxious to taste the culinary treasures we’d read about.
However, by the time we were ready for our next meal, we found ourselves smack in the middle of Spain’s siesta…and every Hondarribia restaurant we went to was closed. Our internal clocks were struggling with jet lag, so we opted for a trip to the market to pick up a quick dinner: meat, cheese, bread, wine, bottled water. We ate on our apartment’s rooftop balcony and watched a stunning sunset.
Not exactly the Basque cuisine we hoped to be eating on our first day in Hondarribia, Spain, but we were looking to rectify that on our second day in the city.
A Taste of Hondarribia Tapas
After a morning of wandering the streets and pier, we decided to have lunch at one of the trendy Hondarribia restaurants at La Marina Hondarribia. There seemed to be a good mix of locals and tourists, but no one was speaking English…not even our waiter (who spoke Euskara, the Basque language, and Spanish). Still not confident on how to decipher the menu, we ordered the recognizable “Uno Croquettes.” The waiter seemed confused by our order, which was followed by our confusion when it arrived: a plate with ONE croquette. We were tempted to share it, but I went ahead and let Kris have the whole thing. Thankful for our sense of humor and that I recognized one additional item on the menu, Paella, we had a second round of food in no time…but still no pintxos.
After an afternoon spent walking to the Faro de Higuer lighthouse, we stopped at a restaurant next to our hotel for a couple of glasses of wine. We noticed some basic bar-top snacks – prosciutto on bread and grabbed one each to have with our wine. Little did we know, we just ate our first Hondarribia pintxos! However, with limited variety, we turned our focus to the restaurant’s full menu (and, although normally a turn-off for us, we were ecstatic it was translated in English!).
Hungry from our light lunch, we quickly decided what we wanted: A Whole Crab and Meatballs. What was delivered to our table was neither of these. The ‘Whole Crab’ was a baked, crab casserole and ‘Meatballs’ were three meat patties drowned in tomato soup. We were definitely missing something and completely lost in food translation. Our Basque culinary adventures would have to wait at least one more day.
Pintxos Hondarribia: Finally Getting It!
Our beginner attempts at Basque Country pintxos were failing miserably. But, we were determined to try the much talked about Basque-style tapas. After spending a fabulous day in St. Jean de Luz, France, we returned to Hondarribia. On the advice of locals, we made our way to the lower town where we were told we could find the best Hondarribia pintxos restaurants. We walked into a bar to find the entire bar covered in platters of pintxos.
The presentation of the pintxos seemed to be just as important as the food itself. Most were bruschetta-like. Small slices of bread were topped with everything from cheeses, meats, vegetables and shrimp to creamy spreads, hard boiled eggs and anchovies.
We carefully selected our first round, but couldn’t tell what exactly it was. We immediately broke the unstated “one pintxo per bar” rule and, instead, selected three: a fried nugget with a mixture of goodness inside; a mayo-based spread with hard-boiled egg and shrimp and one with a mushroom and red pepper. They were divine.
Absolutely stoked that we were finally eating pintxos in Hondaribbia, we moved on to the next restaurant and found that bar also covered in the delectable, carefully-crafted bites. This time we each just got one, accompanied with a glass of wine. I chose the prosciutto, Brie, dried tomato combo and Kris had a mini-sandwich with baked chicken and a sauce. Incredible.
We felt quite proud of ourselves that we had finally gotten our first taste of Hondarribia pintxos. Although it was delicious and I could have binged on the little snacks, it was enough for one night.
Read about our next stop in Basque Country, San Sebastian, and the pintxos we discovered there!
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