Guest post by Gabriella Ranelli

Rita Hayworth was the sex symbol of her day and many a day after that. To be precise: Rita Hayworth as Gilda. She famously lamented “Men go to bed with Gilda and wake up with me”. There was censorship in Spain after the Civil War. The movie Gilda made it through and to this day Rita Hayworth is an icon here.

What does that have to do with food? The most emblematic pintxo in San Sebastian is named after her. Or rather, after Gilda. (Pronounced “Hilda” for reasons we are not even going to begin to go into – go study Spanish!) It is a simple combination of pickled peppers, salt-cured anchovies, and an olive on a toothpick.

Gilda - the Epitome of Basque Pintxos
Creative Commons License photo credit: Alexa Clark

Still you may wonder, how did this savoury snack come to be named after a sex symbol?  Well for that you need a little background on Basque culture of the time.

The Basque Country is a matriarchal society. The man’s role was to be breadwinner and promptly hand over his paycheck to his wife, who administered the household economy. But there was none of the division of household chores that we have now. Women ruled the roost and men didn’t have much of a place in it. To keep them out from underfoot the wives would give them a small allowance and send them out for a couple of wines with their friends before lunch. Kind of like sending a kid to the candy store.

So the men in their little groups would amble from bar to bar. One was in charge of the communal kitty and placed the order. “Six reds and two rosés”. The order was the same in every bar. Every day. There were no pintxos on the bars back then. Each bar might set out a few tins of olives, some tuna, anchovies, cheese, maybe have a chorizo hanging on the wall from a peg. The food available during the week was simple: pickled, cured or packed in oil so that it wouldn’t go bad without refrigeration.

The allowance was well studied to allow for a few wines and then it was home for lunch with the family. The men knew it and so did the barkeeps. With the exception of a plate of olives offered to regulars, relatively little food was consumed in bars during the week.

Creative types would pierce various products with a toothpick from those displayed on the bar to make their own simple pinchos. Wondering where the term pincho came from? Pierce = pinchar. Hence pincho, or using the Basque spelling, pintxo.

Gilda in Madrid
Creative Commons License photo credit: LexnGer

One resourceful fellow came up with the winning combination: an olive, 3-4 guindilla peppers and an anchovy. It’s a little bit green, a little bit picante and a little bit salty. Verde, Picante and Salado also have slightly sexual connotations. Who was the sexiest woman around in the straight-laced, heavily censored post-war years? That’s right: Gilda. Google her if you don’t remember, or better yet watch this clip and you’ll get it.

Gilda singing Put the Blame on Mame:

Gabriella Ranelli is an American ex-pat living in San Sebastian.  We connected with her via twitter as we were heading to San Sebastian and it was a real treat to experience a bit of Basque Culture and traditions with her.  We’re delighted she agreed to share this history of Gilda and gildas, which she told us over gildas at A Fuego Negro

Gabriella Ranelli is the founder of Tenedor Tours a Food and Wine Travel focused on Northern Spain. She was named one of the top 10 food guides in the world by the Wall Street Journal and is considered the leading foreign observer of the Basque Culinary scene nationally and internationally.  Gabriella appears frequently in the media and has filmed food and travel programs for BBC, PBS and Aljezeera as well as Spanish and Basque television. She holds a Masters degree in Viticulture and Oenology and  has spent the last 15 years working closely with chefs to convey the wonders of Spanish foods and wines to the English speaking world. Gabriella also runs Gabriella’s Kitchen, a cooking school and wine tasting center in San Sebastian.

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  • arcticcircle

    Great explanation, thanks!

Photo Credit : [photographer unknown]