Except, most of them had never actually been to the Basque Country. They'd just heard that Basque pintxos were the best tapas in Spain. So I went to find out for myself.
See also: San Sebastian Pintxos Bars
Meaning of the Word 'Pintxo'When do you say pintxo/pincho and when do you say tapa? Even some Spaniards don't know the difference. Find out here: Pintxos, Pinchos and Tapas.
Pintxos in the Basque Country: What Types of Food to ExpectPintxos are 'finger food', much more than tapas are (if you don't know what tapas are, see this page on The Definition of Tapas). Invariably they will be served on a slice of bread and are usually cold, which makes them much like canapes. Occasionally, they will be put in the microwave for 30 seconds.
Does this sound less than appetizing? That's because in the majority of bars in the Basque country, it is.
It is indeed true that many of the best gourmet chefs in Spain come from the Basque Country, but not every Basque bar owner is a gourmet chef. As pintxos are so ubiquitous in cities like Bilbao, San Sebastian and Vitoria, every bar is compelled to put something on the bar for you nibble at. In your everyday bar, this means that the majority of the time you'll get a ham sandwich or a slice of tortilla.
This is not always the case and in some cases you can get some excellent food unlike anywhere else.
See pictures of some San Sebastian Pintxos
How to Order Pintxos in the Basque CountryOne of the 'novelties' of pintxos is that you don't order, you take. It's not the most hygienic practice in the world, but it's a bit of fun to order your beer and just start nibbling at what you see on the bar. You then normally just tell them at the end how many you've had and the barman will charge you accordingly.
However, it is not always done like this. In some bars, the barman can be very protective of his pintxos, you have to ask. How do you know whether you can help yourself or not? Well, it seems that the Basques have a psychic connection with their pintxos - they just know. For the rest of us, I found that a good tip is to ask for a plate ('¿Tienes un plato?' tee-EN-es oon PLA-to) - if the barman just gives you a plate, you are free to help yourself. If he holds onto it and looks at you expectantly, it's time for you start pointing!