Travel

Pamplona culinary festival celebrates Spain's tapas-like pinchos

A 2015 winning pincho created at Abaco, the restaurant in Pamplona’s modern art museum in Huarte. (Credit: Susan R. Pollack)

 

 

In the United States we call them tapas. In northern Spain they’re better-known as pinchos.

Spaniards love the little bites (pronounced PEEN-chos) so much that they set aside a week each spring — actually 10 days this year, April 8-17 — to sample them.

Pinchos are taking center stage at some 90 restaurants and bars in and around Pamplona, which is best-known for its Running of the Bulls spectacle each July, a centuries-old tradition that fascinated Ernest Hemingway.

While I missed that wild and crazy experience, I had the distinct pleasure last spring of attending the  less well-known but no less fun Navarra Pinchos Week. In daily high-spirited bar crawls, I joined locals and foodies from many countries sampling the miniature delicacies, from savory, anchovy-based pinchos that looked like strawberries and tomatoes in boxes of dirt and various exotic morsels topped with culinary foam to variations on the more prosaic but still delicious lamb lollipops, chicken croquettes and chorizo stewed in wine.

A favorite among my group of travel companions was a tasty seafood bite displayed on a smooth river rock at La Capilla, the restaurant in the Pamplona Catedral Hotel. We also enjoyed a creative take on Vietnamese bahn mi at Abaco Restaurant in Pamplona’s modern art museum in Huarte. It won a gold award, for “street food,” from the regional hospitality association, which sponsors the event.

Pamplona’s Old City blocks boast dozens of bars and restaurants, making a pinchos crawl easily doable for travelers. Special prices for pinchos and drinks combinations make it affordable as well.

Gold, silver and bronze prizes are based not only on taste but on creativity and artistic presentation, with a special category for pinchos that highlight local ingredients such as the spring white asparagus for which the province of Navarre is known. Diners typically stand around at bars and high tables sampling the entries and local wines, and then throw crumpled napkins on the floor, with gusto, to express their appreciation.

For an idea of what’s on the menu for the 18th annual event under way now, check here http://www.semanadelpincho.es/. You’ll likely get a kick out of some of the translations.

I especially like the photos of pinchos at the Salon Bar in the Hotel Palacio Guendulain, where I was surprised last year to see a collection of antique vehicles in the courtyard, including the sporty open carriages called Phaeton, an early Daimler motor car and an Arana Americana. The collection belonged to the owners of the onetime palace.

It’s not too soon to start planning a trip to Spain to Pamplona’s annual pinchos party next year; dates will be announced soon. Your taste-buds will thank you.

#SemanaDelPincho @semanadelpincho @Pamplonamegusta @TurismoNavarra

 

 

Susan R. Pollack

Globetrotting journalist and former Detroit News staff writer Susan R. Pollack has covered travel since 1985, visiting scores of countries on five continents, 49 states, six Canadian provinces and hundreds of cities, islands and outposts along the way. From Alaska, the Galapagos and New Zealand to South Africa, Thailand and Wales, she has suffered the occasional lost luggage, jetlag and Montezuma’s revenge but still delights in sharing travel adventures with readers. In addition to The Detroit News, her award-winning stories and photos have appeared in major newspapers including the Dallas News, Toronto Star, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Chicago Sun Times; and magazines including Delta Sky, Midwest Living, Long Weekends, Experience Michigan, Jetsetter, Home & Away, Hour Detroit, Prevue Meetings and Group Tour. She has contributed to several books including “Rand McNally 2008 Ultimate NASCAR Road Trip Guide,” and is the copy editor for secondchancetravels.com. She also has written for websites including gardendestinations.com and travelingmom.com.