The first thing to know about eating in Pamplona is that tapas are NOT a thing. Everywhere else in Spain, it’s common to go out to a restaurant in a group and order tapas, or the Spanish version of artfully constructed appetizers. Not in Pamplona. What a shame.
EXCEPT. In Pamplona, the bars and cafes in the Casco Viejo, or “Old Quarter,” do the residents of the city one better. They have “pinchos” in place of tapas. The only real culinary difference between tapas and pinchos is the name. However, there is a big difference when it comes to the experience of eating pinchos.
The best time to go for pinchos is on a Thursday night for “juepincho” (Spanish for “Thursday” is “jueves,” hence “jueves” + “pinchos” = juepincho. Logic). On juepincho, the narrow cobblestone streets of the Casco Viejo are buzzing with people doing the Pamplona equivalent of a bar crawl; first, you enter a restaurant and order an artfully decorated pincho with cerveza or vino for a mere two Euros (this deal is only on Thursdays, which is what draws the crowds). Next, you bring your spoils out to the street, which is lined with tables (standing room only) and get to enjoy the people watching while you eat. Everyone in Pamplona, from university students to elderly couples to young couples pushing strollers through the crowds, turns up on Thursday nights for the festivities.
If you though the experience was over after the first pincho, think again! I believe the formula for juepincho goes something like four pinchos = one dinner. This means that you get to stroll along to another bar, order another pincho (NO TAPAS, remember?), and repeat the process all over again. The people of Pamplona are big fans of this tradition; I’ve been told that during the winter, despite the chill/rain/snow, juepincho goes on as normal.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be Thursday for you to enjoy pinchos. These restaurants have the snacks prepared daily. And vegetarians beware– chances are, a pincho that looks like it’s topped with innocent vegetables probably has ham hidden in it somewhere. The other thing about pinchos in Pamplona is that there is intense competition between bars to have the best pinchos in the city. In my opinion, I don’t know how anyone would ever be able to choose. There have to be at least 100 restaurants that participate in juepincho, and I have yet to try a bad pincho!
Pinchos aren’t tapas, but they are uniquely from Navarra (the provence in which Pamplona is located), and definitely one of my favorite things about this city. ¡Buen provecho to anyone who comes to Pamplona and participate in this delicious tradition!