San Sebastián, a tiny town along the northern coast of Spain, has always been one of Europe’s hidden gems. Known for its surfing and dreamy beaches, it’s recently been garnering recognition for its culinary culture that is unlike any other place in the world.
The quaint town, which was designated a European Capital of Culture for 2016, is home to nearly half of Spain’s three-starred Michelin restaurants, and the love of food is seen everywhere: Nearly every other young person you meet is an aspiring chef studying at one of the many esteemed local culinary schools.
That said, it’s no surprise that life in San Sebastián is built around the joy of eating and drinking. San Sebastián Gastronomika is a weeklong conference in October for professional chefs but is also open to locals and tourists alike. And just like Los Angeles, New York and other food-obsessed cities, San Sebastián has its own Restaurant Week, during which diners can enjoy prix fixe menus from world-famous chefs. But despite countless restaurants to choose from, the best place to dine in San Sebastián is far simpler. Anyone who’s visiting must experience PintxoPote, a weekly social Basque bar crawl that takes place in the laid-back neighborhood of Gros.
Every Thursday night during my four months studying abroad in San Sebastián was spent exactly the same way. After leaving my flat around 8 p.m., I’d head to the first of at least four pintxo (snack) bars and squeeze my way through clusters of socializing locals and tourists, all of whom were attempting to get their two euros into the hands of whoever stood behind the bar.
After ordering a bite and a pote (drink), I’d make my way to whatever open bar table, window seat or empty space I could find. I’d enjoy my carefully selected pintxo (typically a piece of spicy, Basque meat paired with bread), talk with my friends for a few minutes, and then move on to the next location.
These long, crowded nights were an immersion into San Sebastián’s food-centric community, but you can also experience many of the city's other delicacies during the day. Afternoons are perfect for wandering through Parte Vieja (Old Town) in search of those exotic pintxos. When I reminisce now about my time abroad, I can still taste the unforgettable flavors of duck, fried queso balls, and mini potpies—the food alone worth a trip to San Sebastián.