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Sake & Pintxos Discovery Night (Backstory)

This summer my wife and I went to San Sebastian in Spain, the main city of the Spanish Basque Country. The city is amazingly beautiful and famous for its delicious cuisine, three beautiful beaches, a vibrant atmosphere and very hospitable inhabitants.

San Sebastian
Bird’s eye view of San Sebastian

One of the distinctive culinary features of Basque Country is pintxos (pronounced and sometimes spelt as pinchos), a Basque word for tapas, though there is a slight difference. Tapas are often small versions of larger meals. Pintxos are usually small snacks which often made of several ingredients and put on a slice of bread and held by a toothpick.

The word pintxo comes from Spanish pincho, a spike, a skewer or a toothpick. They usually consist of one or a few ingredients pinned with a toothpick to a slice of baguette. It could be a piece of cheese on tomato sauce and an olive on top, a sardine with some salad and egg, or a slice of ham with capers. Other popular pintxos we tried were croquettes, Russian salad on a slice of baguette with anchovies on top and Spanish omelette.

So as you can see, the distinction between tapas and pintxos is not that big. Some tapas looks exactly like pintxos and pintxos could be like a small dish. They both are not too different from Italian cichetti or Japanese bar snacks like yakitori.

Anyway, we had great experience eating pintxos either with a glass of the local wine called txakoli (chacoli) or a small beer called zurito, which is usually about 150ml. You go in one place, order one of teh pintxos gorgeously displayed on the counter and have it with txakoli or beer. Then you go to the next bar and order a different pintxo with another small drink.

After a few bars you can either continue your evening with eating pintxos or go for a proper dinner. It’s a great pastime on a warm evening in the city. You can even have a desert pintxo, which is a slice of the famous creamy Basque burnt chesecake! So delicious.

But every time I went for pintxos I’ve got a feeling they they are begging for a glass of sake! Why? Not only because I love sake. Pintxos are full of umami and anything full of umami goes perfectly with sake: cheese, meat, mushrooms etc. But of course, none of the pintxos bar we visited served sake. Such a blow for a sake lover like myself.

So when we got back from San Sebastian, I got obsessed with the idea of pairing pintxos and sake. I was sure that it should work very well. First of all, as I have mentioned above, umami + umami = super delicious! Secondly, pintxos is a casual food and sake is a casual drink. A perfect pair. Thirdly, the low acidity in sake highlights and complements the taste of pintxos without overshadowing it. And finally, many pintxos are very similar to Japanese izakaya food: potato croquettes, fried chicken, smoked salmon, Spanish Russian salad, which is very close to Japanese potato salad.

My wife found many pintxos recipes on the Internet, we bought all the ingredients. My daughter sent me a bottle of Born sake from Japan, so it came very handy. We made 5 types of pintxos and it was a success! They all tasted delicious with Born Junsui Junmai Daiginjo Sake.

Chilled Katokichibee Shouten Born Junsui Junmai Daiginjo Sake and pintxos
Chilled Born Junsui Junmai Daiginjo Sake and pintxos

It was something we wanted to share with the whole world! Well, at least as many people as possible. Thus the idea of the Sake & Pintxos Discovery Night was born. My dream is to see sake being served not only in Japanese restaurants but everywhere as a normal drink paired with any cuisine. And this event aligns with it very well.

A few weeks later we called up our two good Japanese friends and made pintxos again but using slightly different recipes. I stopped by Natural Natural, my local Japanese grocer, and got a bottle of nice junmai to go with our creations. So four of us sat down together and did a tasting session again.

Pintxos, the 2nd batch

Finally after a lot of discussions, the menu came together nicely. I spent some time choosing sake as London Sake, the sponsor of my podcast, kindly gave me a special discount for this event. At the end we had five delicious pintxos paired with 5 beautiful sake. We also are going to offer a small glass of sparkling Mio sake on arrival.

The place for the event is cosy and trendy The Hearth on Queen’s Park. We are going to take our guests on a sake and pintxos journey, talking about each sake and why I paired it with a particular pintxo. There will be also two quizzes and a raffle with prizes from our sponsors.

The Hearth, Queen's Park
Trendy Hearth

The evening is going to be fun! Everyone is welcome. If you never tried sake with pintxos, it’s a must to go. It’s on December 14 from 19:00 till 21:00.

More information about the event and tickets are available either from the events section on this website or from Eventbrite.

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Alex is a London-based sake blogger, podcaster, IWC Sake judge and sake advocate. He is a publisher of the Sugidama Blog website and a host of the Sugidama Podcast. Alex has an International Kikisake-shi (Sake Specialist) qualification from SSI (Sake Service Institute). He sees his mission as expanding the awareness of Japanese sake among as many people as possible and helping the growing community of sake lovers to bring together beautiful Japanese sake and non-Japanese food as a way to build a better understanding between our cultures.

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