Cuisine reveals so much about the culture of a place. Land in Bilbao and the afternoon is at your leisure, a time to relax at your boutique hotel in the old city and to walk the elegant banks of the river. Join your guide in the early evening for a tour through Bilbao’s late 19th-century neighborhoods, where glamorous townhouses overlook a seemingly endless row of pintxo bars. Pintxos are small dishes, piled up on the bar, ready to eat. You just point to what you would like to try. A minor comparison could be made with a revolving sushi bar, where the plates are ready, and you choose what you would like to sample. The big difference, other than the actual food, is that the idea here is that you try multiple bars, rather than a single restaurant.
Each bar has its specialty, and the guide knows exactly where to look for what. And the guide can help pick from the menu of wines, distinguishing whether a La Rioja or Ribera del Duero best complements the dish. You will find adventurous choices such as liquidized sea urchin served in its spiky shell, baby octopus lightly fried, roasted peppers stuffed with fresh crab meat, in addition to all manner of cheeses, tortillas, hams, and tomato-based dishes. Each is held together with a stick, and you can find them anywhere between six and 10 in the evening, spread across three to four pintxo bars. This cuisine symbolizes Basque where choice is revered, and quality is paramount, yet the presentation is informal, reflecting a laid-back style that encourages strangers to become friends.