Tapas vs Pintxos: Can You Tell These Culinary Giants Apart?
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Spanish cuisine is chalk full of vibrant and flavour-packed dishes, such as gazpacho, paella, patatas bravas, and the delightfully sinful and luscious tres leches cake. Owing to the country’s cultural as well as geographical diversity, each region has its own unique dishes, ingredients, and flavours. However, one food tradition that is ubiquitous throughout Spain is that of tapas. What are tapas? Essentially, they are small or large plates of food that are served with drinks at bars and taverns throughout Spain.

Tapas can be served hot or cold, and they can be anything, ranging from meats to cheeses to seafood. Tapas have established quite a space for themselves in the global culinary community, with tapas bars present all over the world. Interestingly, one Spanish food tradition that has largely remained restricted to the country is that of pintxos. A lesser known cousin of tapas, pintxos, too pack a punch in terms of flavour, and contribute to the richness and diversity of Spanish culture.

Like tapas, pintxos are served in Spanish bars and taverns. They are made from a host of regional ingredients, including meats, such as ham and chorizo as well as seafood, including anchovies and squid. As many people in the global sphere are unfamiliar with pintxos, they often tend to confuse with them tapas; but this is not case. Here are a few key differences to help one distinguish between tapas and pintxos.

Origin and Geography

Although the origin of tapas is not clearly defined, it is believed that they were invented in the Andalusia region of Spain, from where it spread to the other parts of the country. As noted above, today, tapas are widely relished and available throughout Spain. Pintxos, on the other hand, are thought to have been invented in the Basque region of Northern Spain, and they have largely remained restricted to this area. Food lovers and enthusiasts often flock to the Basque cities of San Sebastian and Bilbao to indulge in the best quality pintxos.

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Tapas are quite simple in presentation; they are served in plates and are typically meant to be shared with friends. In contrast, pintxos are relatively small portions of foods, usually comprising a bread, that are held together by a toothpick. In fact, the name “pintxo” is derived from the Spanish word “pincho,” which means spike. Thus, the toothpick that holds pintxos together is representative of a spike. Similarly, unlike tapas, pintxos are not meant to be shared; as they are tiny portions of bite-sized foods, so they must be consumed individually.

Style of Serving

Tapas are usually ordered a la carte style in Spanish food establishments. In contrast, pintxos are always self-served, buffet-style. They are typically laid out in bars, usually under glass jars or some sort of covering, and one must help himself or herself to their preferred pintxos. There isn’t any set limit to the number of pintxos one can consume at a given time; the Spanish are a wholesome and food-loving people, and everyone is encouraged to eat to their heart’s content.

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This may not always be the case, but several bars and food joints in cities, such as Madrid, sometimes offer one portion of tapas free with drinks. This is not customary though, and therefore, it is recommended to check with the specific bar or establishment before assuming that a portion of tapas will be free. Conversely, pintxos must always be paid for. Each pintxos is charged individually; after one has consumed all the pintxos on their plate, the cashier determines the final bill basis the number of toothpicks present in the plate.