Has the Covid-19 pandemic killed Spain’s pintxos and tapas culture?

Has the Covid-19 pandemic killed Spain's pintxos and tapas culture?
Nicolas Vigier/Flickr
What impact has the ongoing pandemic and health crisis in Spain had on the culture of sharing tapas and pintxos? Esme Fox explores how crowding around bars laden with uncovered food is not the done thing anymore.

Spain is of course known throughout the world for its excellent and unique cuisine, and besides the paella, it’s the tapas and the pintxos that everyone raves about.

But how has Spain’s tapas culture changed since Covid-19? Can it adapt and change in order to survive?

Nowhere in Spain is this more evident right now than the Basque Country, where the culture is the Basque version of tapas – pintxos. Pintxos are small pieces of bread, topped with all types of ingredients, from fried peppers and anchovies to goat’s cheese and fig, all held together with a stick.  

Before the pandemic, pintxos bars in the likes of San Sebastián and Bilbao were groaning with mini bites all laid out in front of you. The idea was to jostle to the front of the bar between the crowds and grab a pintxo or two to put on your plate. At the end of the night, the bar person would simply count the number of sticks you have and you’d pay accordingly.

In this new world, however, the idea of crowding up with customers to a bar laden with uncovered food and taking them with your hands is simply unthinkable.

pintxos

Pintxos before the pandemic | Image by takedahrs from Pixabay

According to an article in El Pais, Covid-19 has completely changed the feel of the Basque taverns. People must now social distance and only a certain number are allowed up to the bar at one time.

Where sometimes bars used to have up to 200 different types of pintxos, now they might have around 40 types because there’s fewer people; residents and tourists alike.  

In San Sebastián, the city council has ordered that all pintxos must now be completely covered at the front and sides and the case must be translucent so that customers can see what they’re ordering. Any bar not complying with these measures can be fined.

This means of course that the number of plates of pintxos that can easily fit onto a bar has now been reduced because extra space is needed for the coverings and containers.

The main difference to the pintxo scene however is that customers are no longer allowed to touch the pintxos, meaning that a large part of pintxo culture is missing. Now customers just point to what they want and are served by the bar person, much like in many bars across the world. Will this destroy the Basque Country’s unique pintxo culture?

Journalist Marti Buckley who lives in the Basque Country said: “Coronavirus is probably the worst type of pandemic possible when it comes the pintxo bar way of eating. Food at a sneeze's length, where it sits all day in front of hundreds of people, smashed in a bar like sardines, elbow to elbow. Glass cases, masks, and limited entry has really changed the experience. However, most measures I am seeing appear to be temporary, so if this ever ends I hope the bars will go back to how they were”. 

olive pintxos

Stuffed olive pintxos | Image by elcodigodebarras from Pixabay

The Basque Country is striving for a fast recovery however, and many visitors to the region have told The Local that the pintxos bars almost felt back to normal.

Travel writer James Taylor who went to San Sebastián post lockdown said: “I didn’t notice much had changed. The main difference was that you couldn’t grab the pintxos yourself. Everything was covered and you had to pay straight away”. This may change the way that people used to graze on pintxos, going up for more when they felt like it, but it doesn’t seem to have killed the culture completely.

Bilbao has even run its first pintxo competition since the Covid-19 outbreak. Aitor Olazabalaga from Bar Fermín who participated in the competition told local Basque news website Deia: “It’s important that we encourage consumption of pintxos again. We had a bit of a shake, but we must all come together to make sure that life in the Old Town recovers”.

In other parts of Spain such as Barcelona for example, tapas culture doesn’t seem to have changed too much. People do seem to be going out in smaller groups and eat out less often though. Friends are still sharing plates of Padrón peppers and ham croquetas, but are being more careful. Double dipping brava sauce with your potato for example is definitely a big no no.


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