What to Do in Bilbao: Stuff Your Face with Pintxos

Bilbao, Spain

The way to my heart is through my stomach. I didn’t know how this statement applies to me, never considering myself a food enthusiast in anyway, until I got to Bilbao.

Bilbao to me was a point on the map inbetween where I was (Brittany, France) and where I was going (Los Picos de Europa). I didn’t expect to fall head over heels with this bustling city in Northern Europe. And all because of its food.

If I had known that Basque country is known for its culinary feat, then maybe I wouldn’t have moaned inappropriately upon my first bite of the unexpectedly delicious tortilla de papas.

The best meal a person could ask for at 6 am in the morning.

After that first bite, I didn’t even care that I was practically stranded on the street: I just got out of an an overnight bus, it was 6 am and raining, and my hostel wasn’t open yet.

But who cares when I have the best tortilla de papas ever in front of me? More, please!

And that was how my love affair with Bilbao food scene started. Over eggs and potatoes.

A bite of pintxo

I’m particularly in love with Bilbao’s pintxos culture (prounounced ‘pintcho’). This is how the locals refer to what the rest of Spain call tapas. The name comes from the Spanish word for ‘skewer’, because most of these bite-sized morsels are created by piling ingredients on top of each other (usually with a slice of bread at the bottom), and then secured with a toothpick.

But as you can see from the pictures, it’s not always done that way.

Don’t let the small size fool you. The flavor of each bite can be very rich and intense. Maybe it’s a good thing that they come in bite-size.

Pintxo from Bilbao
Pintxo from Bilbao
More pintxos
More pintxos
More pintxos
And even more pintxos

The pintxos are pre-made and displayed on the bar countertop. Each bar serves different types of pinchos as well as the more standard ones like tortilla de papas. You just point at whatever strikes your fancy. And at €1.50 – €2.50 a piece on average, you can afford to point at quite a lot of pintxos.

Point and eat pintxos on the countertop.
Point and eat pintxos on the countertop.

A Bilbao’s institution is to go on txikiteo – or Pintxo crawl. It’s where you go from one pintxo bar to another drinking small glasses of wine (or beer) and eating little bites of heaven with your friends.

MORE: What is El Txikiteo (from Christine in Spain)

(Talking about wine, I’ve had some of the best wine ever in these pintxos bars. And again, at €1.50-2.50 a glass, one can drink a lot of glasses of wine.)

Armed with my Kindle, I decided to go on my own txikiteo. I was hesitant at first because it seemed like such a lonely thing to go on a solo bar crawl. But honestly, after the first glass of wine, I didn’t even care. The tip is to find just the right bar.

With so many of these bars – from fancy to dive-y – lining the main streets of Bilbao, I strolled up and down until I found just the right kind of bar that called out to me: not too crowded, not too empty, not too fancy – with a seat at the bar and a large selection of pintxos to choose from.

Then repeat.

(Do you know that 3 glasses of wine improves your Spanish like a gazillion times? Fact.)

I have to say that as far as food was concerned, it was all downhill after Bilbao. I was disappointed that nowhere else during my trip did I find a large selection of tortilla de papas nor ones as moist and rich as the ones I had in Bilbao.

Who knew that tortillas de papas can come in so many forms?
Who knew that tortillas de papas can come in so many forms?

If I had known, I’d have stuffed my face a lot more. Why did I waste time visiting the Guggenheim? I should’ve eaten more.

Needless to say, my stomach loved, loved, LOVED Bilbao. My waistline, not so much. But that’s ok, I reasoned since I was heading to do some hiking in Los Picos, all is good.

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6 Replies to “What to Do in Bilbao: Stuff Your Face with Pintxos”

  1. I’m in Zagreb right now and just this evening after a light supper I was heading back to my hostel when I found a tapas and wine place together with two legs of ¨jamon serrano¨. Too bad I didn’t come across earlier. My mouth melted when I saw the tempting morsels with many different toppings!

  2. I love pintxos! Never went on a txikiteo in Bilbao, but done it in San Sebastian. I would walk back to Spain for those treats. I even make some of them at home like tortilla de papas, patatas bravas, pastel de pescado. And although my pintxos are not that bad, they are nowhere near the real thing they serve in the Basque country. Thanks for sharing, Jill!

  3. Great tips – I’m right now in Granada, visiting a friend and will go to Bilbao in 2 weeks. Already looking forward to taste the great food there 🙂

  4. During our short time in Europe, we only managed to fit in one stop in Spain and that was Madrid, where they do tapas rather than pintxos. I didn’t really know anything about Spanish food other than tortillas and paella before we arrived, but I have to say, even with stops in France and Italy, I think Spain was my favorite foodie stop in continental Europe. I’ve heard that the food up in the north is incredible and Bilbao in particular is supposed to be food heaven (and based on your photos, I’m inclined to agree!) so the next time we head to Spain, I’m definitely going to schedule my own eating tour through that part of the country. And best of all, it’s so affordable!

    1. I think you guys would really, really enjoy the food here. Lots of varieties and so cheap (for European standard). And there’s the delicious wine!! Then you can come down to Cantabria and Asturias as well and try all sorts of pork products and local cheese. I couldn’t do since I don’t eat pork – but you’re an omnivore, oh man – you can go crazy here (in a good way).

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