Aside from our love for Spain and Spanish language, my friends and I love the food too. This Bilbao trip was meant to explore the local cuisine. We slept in a simple pension in Casco Viejo without breakfast so that our culinary began early in the morning.
I want to share stories about the food and drink during my Bilbao trip.
Pintxos are NOT Tapas
I repeat Pintxos (in Spanish Pinchos) are not the same as Tapas although they are both appetizers. I find it important to respect this that is why I try to explain the difference. So this is how a pintxo looks like.
The bowl on the pic below is Tapas. It is a portion (ración) of braised mini chorizo sausages. Most common Tapas are Patatas Bravas (deep fried potato cubes with spicy sauce), Albondigas (meatballs), Champiñones (mushroom), Gambas al ajillos (gamba in garlic sauce) and Tortilla de patatas (omelette with potatoes). There are individual serving Tapas too but commonly one Tapas portion is more than enough for a more than one person.
Waiters count toothpicks of Pintxos for your bill. When I was there I ate mostly at the bar with countless Pintxos on display. During cocktail hours (from 5 – 7 pm) I had mostly 2 Pintxos.
You can’t go wrong with any Pintxos bars at Plaza Nueva. They serve good Pintxos. No worries, there are enough vegetarian Pintxos available.
Pintxos prices in Bilbao vary from € 1,- to € 3,- a piece.
For € 3,5 I got a sweet croissant and a cup of tea. With an extra € 1,5 a glas of orange juice is included. Two other pieces on the plate are Bilbaian specialties: pan con mantequilla (bread with whipped sweet butter) and tarta con arroz (tart with sweet rice filling).
When you are more into savory breakfast, some sandwich or pintxos are served.
Menu del dia
On the second day after a visit to Guggenheim Museum, we strolled on a street nearby and saw a board that said “Menu del dia 3 courses € 13,-”
People in Spain eat an extensive lunch. I ate this similar lunch set in Barcelona and Madrid before. The difference is the price. For € 13,- you only get 2 courses (appetizer + main or main + dessert and a glas of wine/beer) lunch in Barcelona and Madrid.
In Bilbao € 13,- for a 3 courses lunch menu set including wine and bread is a common price apparently.
I had the following.
Appetizer: Arroz negro con chipirones (black rice with squid and squid ink). This tasted like risotto.
Main: Chuletas de ternera (grilled veal chop with garlic and parsley). The veal was perfectly grilled, a la plancha. I could taste the smoky flavor.
Dessert: Coconut mousse with Mango coulis. This was heaven! The mousse was light, not to sweet and rich of Coconut flavor.
And to my surprise; a half bottle of Rioja! I never thought this was only for me. After ordering the waiter came to our table with three wine glasses and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc (white wine, my friends ordered it) and half a bottle of Rioja (red wine, my order). He poured a bit wine to each glass and gave it to us. We thought we should take a sip, to taste. We nodded agreely. The waiter then put both bottles on our table by saying “Es incluida en el precio” “It is included in the price”. We were like, really?
Why am I raving about this seemingly impossible 3 courses lunch set with half of bottle of wine and unlimited bread for just € 13,-? Because here in The Netherlands if I eat my lunch in a cafe I pay around € 6,- for a sandwich and € 2,75 for a glass of orange juice. A glass of wine costs € € 3,80. Count and compare. Above all, this friendly priced menu del dia was really good.
Restaurants all around the city offer 3 courses menu del dia including wine, bread and water from € 13,- to € 15,-. People in Spain eat their lunch between 2 am – 4 am.
Our last night in Bilbao we decided to eat in one fine dining restaurant which is located in front of our hotel.
I respected the restaurant’s ambiance and other guests so I didn’t bring my DSLR along with me. I took the pics discreetly with my iPhone. The atmosphere was chic yet casual, white linnen, impressive wine list and thoughtful staff.
I was still full from the three Pintxos that afternoon so I ordered main course and postre (dessert).
Main: Merluza fish with gamba and clams al pil pil (garlic and parsley sauce). This Merluza came from the nearby bay of Biscay.
My dessert, Sorbete Limón (Lemon Sorbet) was delicious but it was not beautifully presented like my friend’s order. This is Pantxineta, Bilbaian specialty, two sheets of puff pastry with custard filling sprinkled with almond bits, a scoop of vanila ice, strawberry and dulce du leche sauce. Divine!
The dinner was closed with a cup of coffee. Then came the bill. I paid almost the half amount of what I normally pay back home here if I dine in a similar restaurant.
Seen from its location it is not strange to see that Bilbaian specialties are the catch of the day from the Bay of Biscay. Sea specialties are pintxos with chipirones (mini squid), pulpo (octopus), anchovies, bits of Bacalao (Cod), Bonito tuna or dishes like Merluza what I had during dinner, Bacalao al pil pil (Cod stoved slowly in garlic and parsley sauce). Many kind of Chuleta (strips/chops) of beef, veal, pork and lamb. I also saw Foie Gras (fattened goose or duck liver) sold in the market and as toppings on pintxos. I didn’t eat this due to my principle concerning Foie Gras controversy.
Sweet tooths are in right place. Three morning in a row I ate sweet croissant and Churros con Chocolate! Lo siento mucho, I am sorry I have no pic of Churros as I tried to mingle by chatting with the locals in Spanish, so no camera). I also saw Polvorones (crumbly sand cookies, beautifully wrapped) and Turron (Nougat) which I didn’t try as my stomach was full most of the time. The bakeries display local delicacies like Tartas con Arroz (see breakfast pic above), Tarta con Limon (tart with lemon custard topped with meringue), other sweets and breads of course.
The culinary tour was a succes. I really enjoyed it. Fresh products, friendly prices and many choices to choose from. The restaurants and bakeries provide local cuisine with proud, making it possible for tourist like me to taste it. Back to The Netherlands I loyally got on my saddle and bike again, to get rid all those calories I consumed.
For the food only I will surely back to Bilbao. Next time with my husband and G.