Or Pinchos, in their “correct” spelling, not the “basquised” one (it´s quite popular over here to change the Spanish “ch” for the Basque “tx” in Spanish words, like “txorizo” or “txuletón”…).
First of all, those marvellous pintxos you see now in San Sebastián, for example, are something new. The traditional pintxo has always been a slice of tortilla de patata (potato omelette, a very popular dish) on bread and the “gilda” (an olive, a guindilla-a kind of non spicy local chili-and an anchovie, on a toothpick), named after the film where Rita Hayworth was so hot…just like the pintxo. There were others as well, but none like what you find now on bars.
Another thing: almost any bar in Spain will have raciones or tapas or pintxos. There´s no such thing as “tapas bars” or “pintxos bars”, although it´s true that some are famed because of their creations. Those new franchises you can find in Madrid or Barcelona are poor copies of the real thing, a kind of tourist trap, I think. In any case, a tapa is a tapa (never a pintxo), a pintxo is a pintxo (never a tapa) and a ración is a ración. But once again…I may not be totally right 🙂
What is a pintxo? Something you can “pinch” and get with your hands straight from the bar counter. Yes, the law says they must be covered and protected from smoke and spits of saliva…..Small, you should eat it in one or two bites. It normally has a piece of bread on it. Mushrooms, omelette, eggs, tuna, black sausage, chorizo (txorizo :):)), shrimp,…, hot or cold, some more elaborate than others. You pay as you leave, telling the bartender how many you´ve had. It´s based on an honour system: you tell him the truth and he believes you. (I didn´t always respect this when younger and short of money…). Mainly found in the Basque area (Navarra included) and Rioja region, and some neighbouring areas. Now you find very haute cuisine pintxos in many bars, almost half rations, that are like miniature dishes, of excellent quality and flavour. www.todopintxos.com, for more info.
A ración is offered in most of Spain, and you normally eat it with utensils (fork and knife), seated. It´s served hot (if required), and bigger than a pintxo or a tapa. It may be meatballs, or croquettes, or shrimp, or mushrooms, or fried squid (rabas in the North, calamares in the rest), or cheese, or serrano or iberic ham or chorizo, or…It´s shared (visitors have the odd habit of having one for each) by all seaters, and enjoyed with drinks (beer or wine). Very popular in central and southern Spain, and a good way to have a less copious dinner…You can order as many as you want, but always remember to ask about their size…
Mainly served in Madrid and Southern and Eastern Spain, a tapa should normally be offered for free accompanying the drink, so it diminishes the effect of alcohol. The legend says that it´s called “tapa” (cover) to avoid flies from entering the glass of wine (it used to be a slice of bacon or cheese). Smaller than a pintxo, it may be some cheese, or a meatball, or a slice of ham with bread, or a little something. Now the word also designs “raciones” or “pintxos”. In many bars, you never know what you will be offered, it depends on the bartender. And remember, it´s free, so eat it at ease, normally standing by the counter.