Eating As A Contact Sport

We drove early this morning from Barcelona to San Sebastian. To be more accurate, the Gotham Gal drove and I sat in the passenger seat amazed at the vastness of the landscape where for large parts of the drive there was 20 to 30 kilometers between towns. It was desolate and a bit depressing for someone used to seeing a new person every ten feet in NYC.

We got to San Sebastian in time for lunch. After checking into our hotel, we walked to the beach where there were boat races going on, and then walked into the old part of town in search of lunch.

It being Sunday afternoon, the streets were mobbed.
street crowd

We found a few tapas bars that looked good and pushed our way in, and I do mean push. Eating in these bars on a sunday afternoon is a full contact sport. I was thinking I could have used some shoulder pads.

Here’s a selfie I took in one of the bars we pushed our way into.

selfie in bar

In each bar, we got a beer to split and one or two tapas.

While it was work, and we had to push and shove a few times, the payoff was well worth it.


We got this Pulpo A La Planxta Con Membrillo in the first bar we went to.


And we got this grilled shrimp bruschetta (although they call it something slightly different here) in the second one we went to.

We are going back to the bars tomorrow night for more contact sport. I have to say it’s a lot of fun.

#Blogging On The Road

Comments (Archived):

  1. kidmercury

    Beware pick pockets, and enjoy!

    1. fredwilson

      Living in NYC back in the early 80s has given me habits and a sensitivity to that. But I appreciate the advice

      1. LE

        I hope you are putting your things in one of those fanny packs. I actually do that now even when I am at the mall anywhere there is atypical congestion.

        1. fredwilson

          front pockets, deep down.that’s my move and always has been

          1. LE

            That’s what I used to do. But with an iphone in one pocket and car keys in the other pocket [1] I can’t do that.[1] Not to mention I need one hand to make a peace sign.

  2. pointsnfigures

    what’s that bacon thing behind the shrimp? Looks delicious.

    1. fredwilson

      Its mushrooms wrapped in bacon and almost entirely behind the beer is sausages wrapped in bacon. We didn’t try either though we might tomorrow night

      1. pointsnfigures

        Sausages wrapped in bacon, “pig overkill” or “midwestern sushi”

  3. jason wright

    depressing? sudden environmental change can be disconcerting, but after a while it becomes first nature. a congested place like NYC would freak me out for a few days i think.

    1. fredwilson

      For sure. I get freaked out when there is nobody around and its totally quiet

      1. rich caccappolo

        I’m with you, Fred. Makes me uncomfortable. Btw, love the selfie – made me laugh out loud – a kardashian you are not!

        1. fredwilson

          Yeah. My kids are masters of the selfie. I’m a total amateur

      2. LE

        More support for my “don’t think of ever retiring” comment above. Many of the things that make you happy currently will be drastically reduced.

  4. BillMcNeely

    Wow! The bars down here in Texas could learn a bit from these guys about providing great food. It can more than burger and fries! Thanks for sharing!

  5. William Mougayar

    And this was the day is looking just like a food post! When you said you wanted to do what Joanne is doing when you retire, you really meant it 🙂

    1. fredwilson

      Well I’m not retired. Just pretending to be for a month

      1. William Mougayar

        yeah, that’s what i meant…

      2. LE

        William: Freudian slipFred: Sore spotAnd hey, you’re not pretending to be retired by the way.As a college professor said to me when I told him I was working at a factory in the summer (doing shitty work as in “I know what it’s like to do that work and be that person”)”don’t compare yourself to the person who does that day in an day out and will continue to do so for years with nothing to look forward to” [1] You wouldn’t enjoy yourself as much if you didn’t have the pressure of knowing that you have serious and enjoyable work to get back to. The stress of the work makes the non stress and change of venue and vacation enjoyable. Remove the stress and increase the time doing the same activity and my guess (from human behavior and observation) you wouldn’t enjoy it anywhere near as much.[1] Not exactly what he said of course but my memory from back then of the gist.

        1. Fernando Gutierrez

          I don’t know if he’s pretending to be retired or not, but their activities are quite impressive. They changing places every couple of days, buying in local markets, visiting museums and eating like a platoon of hungry soldiers. Most people would need a second vacation to recover from that vacation!

          1. fredwilson

            that’s the Gotham Gal in action. she’s a machine. it is all i can do to keep up with her

          2. LE

            My early “mentor” (if you want to call it that was just a guy that I admired in business) use to tell me about his wife “she’d have me out every night running around if I let her”). Interesting coincidence was he was not jewish and married a jewish woman as well.

          3. Fernando Gutierrez

            My wife and I use to joke about how our American friends approach to holidays is so different to those from any other place. We call it “vacation like you mean it” for its intensity 🙂

          4. LE

            Not to mention that you can’t even take leftovers of what you don’t eat home. One of the bummers when eating on vacation. You don’t get (what I call) “the shrinking leftover”. [1][1] When you are full and satiated in the restaurant what’s left on your plate looks like a large portion fit for a king. Surely enough for an entire second meal. But when you get it home and try to re-heat it it the next day becomes “the shrinking lefover” because your appetite has increased and it normally needs to be supplemented. (I’m not a big eater and I never finish any dish in a restaurant..)

          5. Fernando Gutierrez

            In Spain (and I believe most of Europe) it is extremely unusual to take the leftovers home. I rarely leave any food in the plate, but maybe I would eat less if I had the chance to keep the uneaten part. Note also that the size of the portions anywhere in the world is a fraction of the ones in the US.

          6. LE

            Interesting but doesn’t surprise me.The way I was raised in my family we never had leftovers, period. The food was always fresh. Was something really important to my dad given his upbringing and past history (Europe as well). I don’t think my mom ever made leftovers at all. And we never had takeout either except for chinese food and pizza (but this was the 70’s after all). And that was very rare. Mom cooked every night that’s the way it was.Likewise until fairly recently I never took leftovers home from a restaurant ever.I had a girlfriend (after my divorce) and was mortified when we stopped off at her house once (this was mid 00’s) and put the leftovers in the refrigerator. Her father then asked if he could have some of the leftovers. I was totally blown away. I mean just eating some other person’s leftovers? First time that ever happened. Was like the 4th date or something. So going forward when we were dating I would just always let him have the leftovers in exchange for allowing me to take advantage of his daughter (a little light comedy, ….summer stock here…)

  6. JimHirshfield

    “Freddy is my co-pilot”, she said.Enjoy San Sebastian. We were there a dozen years ago. Take the walk up to the castle… Great view!

  7. Jan Schultink

    A good time to re-read “The Sun also Rises”

  8. William Mougayar

    San Sebastian is arguably the culinary capital of Spain, what Lyon is to France and Bologna to Italy. You’re in for a treat. The list of top/famous restaurants goes on and on: Mugaritz, Arzak, Ibai, Zuberoa, Casa Urola, Akelare, etc.

    1. fredwilson

      We are hitting some of those

      1. daryn

        Akelare was the first restaurant I ever went to (in 2003-ish) where we were assigned a waiter based our nationality: they had staff who spoke american english, british english, german, spanish, basque, and even one of the asian languages. Pretty impressive. Food was excellent too, need to get back to SS!

      2. William Mougayar

        The Basque cheeses are pretty good too, lots of goats 🙂

    2. Fernando Gutierrez

      Yeah, it’s crazy. Very few areas in the world have so many amazing restaurants so near. More amazing still if you consider that the population is quite small.

      1. William Mougayar

        That’s where our next culinary destination is going to be. I missed experiencing El Bulli before it closed. The combination of artistic and culinary creativity is just so amazing.

        1. Fernando Gutierrez

          I did’t get to go to El Bulli either, but in general I prefer the Basque cuisine. Their elaboration maybe less imaginative than Adria’s, but I’m not really sure that liquid nitrogen is my favourite ingredient.

  9. LIAD

    Easy to forget how cool it is to be part of Europe where you can experience the culture, architecture and cuisine of x many countries without having to board a plane or go through customs.Took a short trip with the kids recently where we woke up in UK, had lunch in France afternoon tea in Belgium and dinner in Holland.Was fun, relatively easy and cheap.

    1. James Ferguson @kWIQly

      In Botswana I went into Angola by accident (driving towards Maun I thought) the guys with their AK47s were friendly.In the rainy season the roads move and maps dont keep up !In Switzerland the mistake is also easily made – but not the same adrenalin rush :}

  10. kirklove

    Dropping the kilometers instead of miles!And Spanish tapas bars are the best. No food for the weak!

    1. fredwilson

      My dad called them “clicks”I was three when we moved to Germany as a kidWe’d take a lot of road trips and he’d always say “20 clicks more and we’ll be in …..”He also would smoke a pipe when he droveHe gave up the pipe around the time we moved back to the US and he was sent to Vietnam

    2. Alex Wolf

      When will the US embrace metric? For a nation of people who “hate math” it seems so obvious to leave imperial behind.

      1. kirklove

        Yeah, the US is silly about that. I’m married to a South American so I’ve gotten used to Metric. It’s definitely better and more consistent.

        1. LE

          It’s legacy and what we use. Besides in the smartphone age most people don’t have the same need “repeat: most people” to do calculations in their head or on the fly. It’s not a daily occurrence. I mean you buy things at the market all the time by sight, not by doing calculations. You know what a quart of milk “looks like”.As far as the things listed on this page do a survey and see what percentage of americans have an issue with the things listed here vs. the “tumult” that would be caused by conversion to the metric system:…Here is the best reason this author could come up with “why not english”.…If you go to buy carpeting, and you need 100 square feet, the carpet costs $10 per square yard, could you, even given these simple numbers, ever figure out how much you’ll pay? Which is more, 2 quarts, 5 pints or 36 fl oz? How many pints are in a gallon? How many pounds are 200 ounces? Which drill is the larger -the 13/64, the 1/4 or the 5/32? Two cities on a map are 10 inches apart – what is their real world distance?And as far as “better for the rest of the world” not a problem in my mind. Unless it is somehow (and I doubt this) causing us economic harm. (Not seeing this with the Apple iphone and screen size…) I mean if you asked people in other countries they’d probably like us to learn their language so they didn’t have to learn our language.

      2. LE

        When will the US embrace metric?Why? Is that causing any problem in particular? If so I’m not seeing it. What is the advantage vs. the disadvantage of getting everyone on a new “keyboard” (as in dvorak vs. qwerty).

  11. Brad Harrison

    Its looks amazing….and I love the satisfaction of tapas and a beer after the full contact push to get in there

  12. JJ Donovan

    Thank you for sharing this very personal time with you and the Gotham Gal. It is most likely the closest I will ever get to vacation for a month.

  13. Mac

    I can’t tell for certain but Seth Godin may have photobombed your street scene.

  14. Richard

    Why is it we read again and again about Europe’s malaise yet the streets and cafés are packed and vibrant ?

    1. jason wright

      Fred neglected to mention prices.

      1. Richard

        I have a hunch that there are no bargains. It just doesn’t look like an economy with a 25% unemployment rate. The answer I suspect is a large underground economy.

        1. Fernando Gutierrez

          I don’t know the reality in other countries in Europe as well as in Spain, but here go a few explanations:-Unemployment (and poverty) is quite unevenly distributed, both geographically and by sector. There are regions with almost 50% and others with around 10% (like the Basque Country, where Fred is now). Population mobility is very low.-Going out is very important for Spaniards. Some people will stop spending in many other things before stopping going out.-There is a lot of unreported economic activity. It is impossible to tell how much, but I believe it is growing due to higher taxes and people that have gone bankrupt and are kicked out of the system (laws are quite hard, it is very difficult to recover from bankruptcy and it takes many years).

          1. Richard

            Great Insight. We need better data on economies. Getting the data from the govt is like asking the fox to count the chickens

          2. pointsnfigures

            And the agencies are generally wrong. In grain markets, there are private agencies that compile info-and charge for it. They are usually right.

      2. fredwilson

        2.50 euro for most, 3 or 3.50 for some. beer was like 1.50 or 2 euros max

        1. Richard

          Cash only?

          1. jason wright

            wait for “Apple Pay only” establishments.

          2. Richard

            Having used starbucks pay now for a year, I am sure that this will be a home run for Apple



      1. Richard

        New metrics needed. Gross National Selfies

      2. Vera

        Nice Obama Care. Lol

  15. vruz

    Translation: Pulpo A La Plantxa Con Membrillo means:Grilled octopus with quince.

    1. Fernando Gutierrez

      That makes sense, San Sebastián is in the Basque Country!

      1. vruz

        Oh right. I misread, I thought Fred was still in Catalonia.

        1. Fernando Gutierrez

          It is pretty amazing that you noticed that food was more typical of the Basque Country, you’re a true connoisseur!

          1. vruz

            Hey, thank you. Maybe I’m just hungry right now :-)hehehe

    2. fredwilson

      yup. we are in Basque country now. it’s clearly a different culture. like NY vs Texas or something

      1. vruz

        You will also notice that the Basque language is completely different from anything else. They’ve been there for millennia.

      2. awaldstein

        Face north and stretch your gaze to the most western corner of Spain and you are imagining my favorite place in the country–Ribeira Sacra.Nothing there but insanely terraced cliffs, created by the Romans 2,000 years ago over the river Sil and some of the most beautiful wines in the world.

        1. Borja Santaolalla

          wow, impressive @awaldstein:disqus, am sure you’re a lover of the mencias grape type then hey? very singular and particular wines… not for everyone.Exciting to see all these new bodegas coming up from new DOs (i.e. Somontano, Jumilla, Toro, Campo de Borja, Bierzo…). Very interesting things are happening in Spain these days…

          1. awaldstein

            Lots’ of interesting natural wine being made in Spain.Love Ribiera Sacra, love a few of the natural Cava’s, love some from the Canaries and one of my favorite winemakers in Spain is Juan Ponce, the ‘Bobal Whisperer’ from Manchuela ( )

          2. Borja Santaolalla

            excellent, just ordered 3 bottles of La Castiila 2012, (2008 is not on sale anymore- unable to find it through local stockists anyway), well, lets see how the 2012 Ponce bobal expresses itself 🙂

        2. fredwilson

          we’ve been drinking some Albarino from that region while in Spainlovely stuff

          1. awaldstein

            A wonderful grape, lots of different expressions.Drink a lot of it in the summer.

          2. Fernando Gutierrez

            I always have a bottle in the fridge. When we have a lazy evening at home dinner means take away sushi and a glass of albariño.

    3. ShanaC


  16. Alex Wolf

    The Basques believe you should drink standing up, and those who drink sitting become drunks. *Hence their chiquiteo habit of bar hopping with small drinks and snacks. The idea is to go to as many places as possible, out and about, around the town, brushing shoulders with many. It’s so opposite the American way of parking somewhere and consuming. A different kind of social.* need @awaldstein and @JLM reactions here.

    1. LE

      Wasn’t aware that JLM consumed significant quantities of alcohol and for that matter not even sure “how much” alcohol Arnold consumes either. (I’d be curious though.) I’d also throw into the “like to know” department @andyswann as well. Since he has mentioned drinking in his comments from time to time. Pappy iirc.By the way what do you define as a “drunk”? Do you mean “those who drink sitting become alcoholics?”.Sitting in a bar for hours on end drinking seems like a different social activity (and has a different reason for doing so) than “bar hopping with small drinks and snacks”.For one thing people sitting in a bar for hours aren’t expending any effort and are being passive. So you could say they are lazy in the same sense as people who are parked in front of a TV for hours.Anyway, I doubt people that go bar hopping are doing every single day or many days of a week. So right there you have a different group of people as the cohort. [*]Stereotype of the day: Driving through the poor working class neighborhods in Philly growing up it was pointed out to me that “there is a bar on every corner”. Not in the middle to upper class neighborhoods. One of the reasons was that they men tended to go there enough (and the neighborhood was dense enough) that it could support “a bar on every corner”.[*] need @sigmaalgebras reactions here

      1. Alex Wolf

        Neither Arnold not JLM are drunks, but they enjoy their wine and spirits and the company they consume them alongside. I pinged them for their thoughts only.I regret overlooking spirit master Pappy @andyswan. How silly of me. I beg his forgiveness.

        1. LE

          I pinged them for their thoughts only.A twist of that could be the next ice bucket challenge.You ask someone a personal question (“how much do you drink and how often” or “do you cheat on your taxes and how much” or “how often do you spank your spouse” or “have you ever been accused of being an alcoholic”).Said nominee has to either answer the question or donate money to a charity. Video response for the answer (or non-answer to the question).

        2. awaldstein

          There is nothing like creating groupings of people in public places.Core to urban life and socialization.The biggest difference culturally from place to place around the world is not standing or sitting, its how fluid and open people are to letting strangers join the group.What wine does for me is open up circles and groupings everywhere I go.And invariably the discussions go way beyond what’s in the glass.

          1. Alex Wolf

            I agree it’s about setting the scene. Certain environments help scene set better – the spirit can be the social grease, so can the place or vibe, to release the energy of connection.

  17. James Ferguson @kWIQly

    The reverse feeling – When I go to big packed cities I find myself saying hello to people on the street (its what you do where I come from).Then I feel silly, then we sometimes end up talking about, how it is cool if you can talk to people in a big city.I think emotional courage to “break the ice” is something a CEO must have – like at a conference event :Do you just stand hoping someone will initiate with you ? -NO you have to “put on your inner American” – nothing to loose – blurt it out, get talking, however you do it SMASH THE ICE !Edit :Picture Credit GreenpeaceI bet @FAKEGRIMLOCK would agree



  18. Salt Shaker

    Loved staying in Paradors while traveling in Spain (provided an added sense of history). We stayed in an absolutely beautiful one right outside San Sebastián (in Hondarribia).

  19. Fernando Gutierrez

    A few years ago I went to San Sebastián to run a marathon with some friends. The previous night we hit the old city centre and did exactly what you describe. We enjoyed so much that we almost decide not to run to be able to keep eating and drinking. In the end a few months of training mattered more and we stopped after a few beers and tapas.

    1. fredwilson

      how did you do in the race the next day?

      1. Fernando Gutierrez

        I finished and so did one of my two friends. I did a bad time (4:15) but I think it was because it was my first race and I had not trained enough, not because of the previous night. It was the most beautiful race I’ve run, the city is incredible.

  20. daryn

    Love that city, and especially doing the pintxos walk there.By the way, you can get a mini beer to go with your snack, I think it’s called a zurito, and be sure to try the txakolina, the local super-dry, slightly-effervescent white that you’ll see them pouring from about their heads.

    1. fredwilson

      i was transfixed by the bartenders’ ability to pour accurately from over their headsamazing

  21. Twain Twain

    Haha, yes the Spanish scrum for great tapas!If it’s on, it’s worth going to see Sara Baras at the Castillo de San Sebastian. She’s the most amazing Spanish flamenco dancer.

    1. Vasudev Ram

      Speaking of flamenco music, I had come across the music of guitarist Andrei Krylov a while ago, and listened to some of it. Interestingly, though he is originally Russian (now in Canada), he is versatile and also plays some flamenco. Pretty good music, IMO.

  22. ShanaC

    That is the perfect selfie. And you need to go to a kiddush with a good chulent, because eating has always been a full contact sport in my book 😉

  23. Borja Santaolalla

    hey Fred! I couldn’t believe to see my beloved hometown of San Sebastian in your last post. As other colleagues mention you defo should give a try to Mugaritz (ranked among top 3 restaurants in the world last 5 years – in my opinion too much flashy experimentation, a bit of a culinary Disneyland), but most importantly, make sure you don’t miss Arzak, traditional but at the same time fresh (this one is the one locals choose for special occasions). Another favourite of mine is Kaia, which is in nearby fishtown of Getaria, here go for grilled fish and seafood. Sensational!!! If you want to give the old town a second round (tomorrow and tuesday will not be as nearly as crowded as today), check this post of mine which I wrote for friends back in 2012 (but still rocks!): http://www.borjasantaolalla…Well, enjoy the city!!

    1. fredwilson

      we are doing Arzak our last night in town. can’t wait.thanks for the link. we will use it tonight.

    2. Fernando Gutierrez

      Post saved in Evernote for next trip there!

  24. JamesHRH

    Two thoughts:So many introverts friends that have a partner are passengers. Does @Gothamgal like to drive?Jessica gets her skills from her Mom.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      I never associated driving with introversion/extroversion. Is this a theory of yours?

      1. LE

        One of my observations over the years is that a man who let’s his wife drive shows he is more passive than she is.Another explanation has to do with control. Someone who allows another person to drive probably doesn’t have as many control issues as someone who would rarely if ever allow someone to drive. [1] This is separate from someone who can’t let someone drive for fear of getting nausea.Along the lines of what you are asking I guess you could argue that an introvert is less likely to be assertive and try to wrestle control from an extrovert.[1] Or perhaps they have given up and just allowed the other person who is more forceful to be in control.

      2. JamesHRH

        Took :10 to reply & them Disqus iPhone binged it to the ether….

      3. JamesHRH

        Try again.Yes – theory.I use Enneagram as personality framework. Fred is a 5. Other male 5s I know let their wife drive.I think they just look at it as a chore. Not sure they view it thru a gender or other lense.Peer sodality has a lot to do with it. I think it links your philosophy, physiology & gifts.I mean really -‘do you think an 8 like @jlm let’s the MRS drive the Big Ref Car?

  25. Vasudev Ram

    Great post title.

  26. Kasi Viswanathan Agilandam

    Looking at the crowd inside the restaurant and out on the street… I am thinking”Eating as a Contest” as the title of the post.

  27. Ed Freyfogle

    I’m fortunate that my start-up takes me to the Basque country frequently. Though we’re based in London, for our Christmas event every year we fly the team there. A few years back we all did a cooking class / competition in one of their eating societies. Other years we’re gone body boarding. Entering the Bay of Biscay in December is a true team building exercise. Of course there’s lots of food and wine afterwards.If you have the chance drive the coastal road fron San Sebastian to Bilbao, it is gorgeous.

  28. Javier Hernandez

    Hey Fred, I am a reader of your blog and I am from SS and would love to take you for some tapas. Ping me on [email protected] or 0034647721457!

  29. sigmaalgebra

    Some years ago there was a Basque, Pyrenees, cheese Chiberta. My wife and I got a 1-2 pound chunk of it sometimes in Columbus, OH and, as I recall, in Georgetown in DC. It was terrific stuff, especially with some French bread and *full bodied* red wine. Also helped to have the windows open!Apparently it was a *washed rind* cheese and similar to Livarot from Normandie –…Maybe in Basque country there are other such cheeses to try!

  30. fnc

    try Borda Berri – its fantastic

    1. fredwilson

      the photo in the blog post of the octopus (pulpo) is from therethe veal cheeks were also amazing from there