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Plan your pintxos, don't get drunk and never split the bill, advises chef Dan Hunter.
STEP ONE Plan your txikiteo (pintxo crawl) in advance. Every bar has a speciality and if you do some research you'll soon discover the best place for anchovies, or where to find the most recent winner of the annual tortilla de patatas competition. Stick to those specialities at each bar and you've got your night planned – with no disappointments. Must eats: anchoas (anchovies), especially a Gilda, tortilla de patata (Spanish omelette), croquetas de bacalao (salt cod croquets), setas (wild mushrooms), bocadillo de jamon (air dried ham sandwich).
STEP TWO Pintxo bars are not for settling in. Pintxos are not meant to be a meal, but an appetiser before dinner; and with so many bars, each with its own speciality, the key is to eat one or two things at each bar with one drink, and then move on. Act like the locals and keep your order simple. At each bar, order a zurito (small glass of beer), a glass of txakoli (Basque white wine) or una crianza (not the most recent vintage but a decent table red with a year or two on it) with your pintxo: don't go out to get drunk.
STEP THREE Pay at the end when you leave the bar. If you're in a group, it's most common to form a kitty at the beginning of the evening that one person's in charge of and pay from the kitty when you leave. No one pays individually when in a group, and it will be seen as annoying if you try.
STEP FOUR Don't be too obsessed with getting a table – pintxos are meant to be eaten standing and chatting, but if you really want to sit and avoid the crowds, arrive early in the day, from about 6pm. Of course, by doing this you also miss the fun of being in a crammed bar!
STEP FIVE Each neighbourhood has a Pintxo-Pote (happy hour with a drink and a pintxo at a discounted price) one night a week. These are advertised by a small sign on the door. For an authentic experience with far fewer tourists, explore more than the Parte Vieja and Gros; try the Egia neighbourhood on Fridays, or Amara Viejo Tuesday to Thursday.
Dan Hunter is chef-owner of Brae restaurant in Birregurra, Victoria, voted the Good Food Guide's 2019 Regional Restaurant of the Year. He worked in Spain from 2003-2007, including two years as head chef at the Michelin-starred restaurant Mugaritz, near San Sebastian, braerestaurant.com
His most recent collaboration with Koko Black chocolatiers blends chocolate and Australian botanicals, such as finger lime and green ant, and will be presenting at the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival. See www.kokoblack.com, www.melbournefoodandwine.com.au