More than an original and fun way to have your food, pintxos are the culinary expression of a lifestyle, a lifestyle of enjoying any opportunity to have a small bite and a sip, over a lot of conversation. Born in the Basque country, this custom is spreading all around the peninsula so that today, in Barcelona, one finds an entire street of pintxo bars.
The street in question is right in the heart of Poble Sec, between Paral·lel and Montjuic: Carrer de Blai, a long and beautiful pedestrian walkway filled mainly with bistros and bars. There are many other pintxo bars all around the city, one of them being also our brunch stop for the tour, but Carrer de Blai is the best place where you can go for the very traditional way of having the pintxos – txikiteo (chiquiteo, in Castellano) or the Basque version of a pub crawl: going from bar to bar and having a taste of the house’s specialties.
The choice in pintxo bars is diverse, from L’Atelier de Blai to Blai Tonight, La Tasqueta de Blai, Taberna Berri, La Esquinita de Blai or Blai 9, the stop for today.
Taking further the idea that “tapas are an expression of freedom and rules get in the way” (a phrase of Manuel Vázquez Montalbán that Blai 9 uses as motto) the team decided to extend the concept of freedom and to focus upon pintxos – and the innovative side that made them, above all, so appreciated. The pintxos are also known as haute cuisine in miniature, and this is exactly what one finds at this bar.
A Twist of Bread
Instead of using the typical slices of white bread as base for their pinxos, Blai 9 opted for a varied selection of high quality, small scale products from different gastronomic cultures: blinis, crêpes, piadines, pittas, churros or tortillas.
The rolls of artisan dough do not come alone. First, they are filled with (also) traditional ingredients, like jamón, tortilla de patatas or seafood rice, and after having been shaped into the desired form, they are being used as base for the actual pintxo mixes – of meat, cheese, fish, prawns and vegetables, originally combined and artfully displayed.
The mixes themselves start from classical pairings of the Basque tradition but do not stop here. There’s always a surprise or an unusual ingredient, like caramelized almonds (below) or the seasonal plums which have just been introduced as topping for a vegetable pintxo.
The blinis, for instance, are the Russian wheat pancakes. Piadina is the extraordinary tasty flat bread of Emilia-Romagna, Italy, while pitta is, by excellence, belonging to the Eastern Mediterranean gastronomy, being widely used in Greece, as well as in Turkey and in all the countries of the Middle East.
Thus a stop at Blai 9 not only takes you around all the regions of the Peninsula, showcasing the best that the Iberian gastronomy has to offer, but also on an interesting journey around the Mediterranean Sea.
For today, I paired my pintxos with the local Epidor beer of Moritz, but the team of Blai 9 explains that their wines are also with strong personality: “they are produced by Ros Marina Viticultors, a small traditional Catalan vineyard in the D.O. Penedès region. They convey respect for the environment, work, and love of the land where they come from. We offer the Ros Marina Cupatge 2011, an exceptional organic wine that won the silver medal in the 2013 Catalan Wine and Cava Competition.”