Before coming to Spain, I had started to have an interest in food. My father had always been very talented at cooking and despite the fact that he was born in Japan, had always had a special love for Italian food. I went to Spain without any idea of what Spanish food would be like, but aware that I would probably like it. I didn’t just end up liking food in Spain, I ended up planning much of my experience around it. I was particularly enamored with small bar foods served in the north of Spain known as pintxos, and was anxious to get a chance to try the hundreds of variety as well as prepare my own. Food became an extremely important part of my life, and I began to taking cooking very seriously, with a flare for Spanish and Basque cuisine. This is probably the biggest effect that my study abroad experience had on me.
When this photo was taken, I had probably already had eight different pintxos that day, and with some friends, had very formally scored them out of 10 (5 points for taste, 3 for innovation, 2 for presentation). We had had some very good ones and some that were a little less than enthralling, but I knew that this bar/restaurant had a good reputation and they had interesting pintxos. I was awed both by the food itself and the culture around it – the only time I saw more people out on the street in Pamplona was during San Fermin, which is often reputed to be one of the greatest street parties on earth.
I am still awed by the food culture of Navarra and the Basque country, and have done my best to bring some of it back with me – I still make an effort to cook a lot, and I do my best to cook both in the philosophy and in the style of Basque Spanish cooking, but I am limited – both because the food culture in the united states is not the same, and in that many ingredients that are used to in Basque and Spanish cuisines (particularly pintxos) are easily available locally, but rather difficult to find internationally.
I took this picture because I felt that this bar did the best job of presenting their pintxos and explaining them – not all bars offered anywhere near this level of explanation or presentation. While these were not the best pintxos I ended up having, the one on the left came very close, scoring an aggregate 9/10 from my friends and I.
This is an image from the inside of the restaurant/bar San Nicolas: Cocina Vasca. I took it during one of Navarra’s most beloved and eagerly awaited culinary events, La Semana de Pintxos (The week of pintxos). Pintxos are small, carefully crafted but inexpensive foods sold in bars prepared primarily in the north of Spain in Navarra and Basque country. The Semana de Pintxos is a week long competition amongst literally hundreds of bars throughout Navarra for the the best, most innovative pintxos. Fortunately, normal people are allowed to participate as well, going from bar to bar and asking for their entries into the contest. Here are San Nicolas: Cocina Vasca’s entries to the contest: a mini-hamburger made from baby squid with a shrimp carpaccio and ali-oli as well as sliced tomatoes with avocado and smoked salmon.