Mid-January in the Basque Country (and more specifically, in Gipuzkoa) means the kick-off of cider (sagardoa in Basque, sidra in Spanish) season. Sagardotegiak, or cider houses (sidrerías in Spanish), throughout the area open their doors and let the year’s harvest flow. The process is fairly straightforward in whichever place you decide suits your (not-so-) fancy:
1. You gather up a group of friends and block off a good five hours of your day, plus extra for a nap if you go at lunch time.
2. Take a bus to the towns of Astigarraga or Hernani and find your way to the chosen place. Typically cold and drafty warehouse-type joints with cement floors and walls lined with giant barrels, I could think of no better place to spend a winter’s evening.
3. Gather around the table, sit or stand, be given a glass, and any time you hear someone shout “TXOTX!” go to the designated barrel, hold out your glass, and let a stream of cider hit the bottom with a bubbly splash (traditional Basque cider isn’t sparkling, but the long stream from barrel to glass makes it fizz. Glasses are filled only about an inch or so, and it’s thrown back in one quick gulp.).
4. In between refills, eat. And then eat more. The meal is always the same at every sidrería, and it’s so good. It starts off with a tortilla de bacalao (an omelet with cod, peppers, and onions); then comes fried cod and green peppers; and then there’s the CHULETA: a gigantic, red, bloody steak that everyone cuts pieces from. It makes me think of being a cave woman, or someone from the Middle Ages who refers to her wine glass as a chalice, so that’s always fun…
5. Hang out, drink ever more, talk to the proprietor about the harvest, you know the drill.
A couple of weeks ago I went with a few people from the kitchen on a Monday afternoon. We found exactly one such place that was open, and only because another group had made reservations. Nonetheless, a good time was had. Here is our adventure:
We missed the one o’clock bus out of Donosti and had to wait out a bit of time. Wait a minute: I was on time (what?!) and was there waiting when the bus left.
Yoaly and the boys.
Ok, so when we were already on the bus and heading out of the city we realized that none of us really knew where we were going. We just figured that as the last three bus stops were all in the town we were heading to, we’d just get off at one of them and ask. And so we asked, and this nice gentleman explained.
Aaand kept explaining.
So after crossing some streets and a highway, we made our way to the designated place. Except that it was closed. And there was a nice man just sitting outside who called his friend, the owner of another sidrería across town, to see if there was room for us. And he gave us directions for that one.
But we still had trouble finding it, so we asked for directions from a lady at a bus stop. Then from a guy walking down a hill. Then from this guy in a plaza.
But really, he’s the only one who was able to tell us where to go.
An hour after getting off the bus!
And we’re here!
Each barrel holds 7,500 liters of cider, and these were just the ones up front.
Some lovely examples of old Basque things.
Cheers from the balcony!
And we’re off!
Alex found a hatchet in the kitchen. Naturally.
Dessert leftovers (walnuts, Idiazábal cheese, and membrillo)