A visit to a Basque cider house is one of life’s greatest joys. That smokey txuleta washed down by tart cider; endless cries of txotx! and trips to the barrels; strangers that become friends two glasses in. It makes our hearts happy (and gets our stomachs rumbling) just to think about it all. And it just so happens to be the season for sidra!
A visit to these temples of cider, sagardotegiak in the Basque language, is a unique and unforgettable experience (well, unforgettable depending on how much cider you drink…). Tradition reigns, and it’s just as much about the food and drink as it is a cultural event, full of rites and rituals, ones that might feel foreign when you first step into these hallowed, wood-beamed halls. Here’s a little guide from our team at Mimo San Sebastián to help ease you through this singular Basque experience.
‘Tis the season
Most sidrerias operate between January and April, though you’ll find some tourist-friendly ones that are open year-round. This is the time when the year’s cider has finished fermenting and is ready to be consumed – and it’s best fresh!
What’s the deal with Basque cider anyway? It’s naturally fermented apples, and nothing else. If you’re expecting a sweet and fizzy apple-flavored brew, you might be disappointed. Sidra is sour stuff, tart and funky, crisp and dry, and it’s poured from up high to aerate and add that slight sparkle of effervescence. And it perfectly accompanies all that Basque comfort food that you’ll be filling up on in the sagardotegi.
Txotx is the magic word in a sagardotegi, signaling that it’s time to drink. Every time the shout rings through the room, you head to the kupelak (barrels) – giant vats that line the tasting room. The taps are opened and you queue up to catch a bit of cider – about two fingers worth — in your glass. It takes a bit of finesse to catch the spouting sidra without making a mess of yourself, but after the third txotx, you should get the hang of it.
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Urtarrilaren 16an 2019ko #txotx denboraldi berria zabalduko dugu, baina… nor izango ote da Gartziategi Sagardotegian lehen kupela irekiko duena "Gure Sagardo Berria" esanda? Asteazkenean jakinaraziko dugu aurtengo gonbidatua nor izango den. Adi egon! • ➡ Egitaraua: Esteka biografian. —- El 16 de enero abriremos la nueva temporada del #txotx 2019, pero… ¿Quién será el encargado/a de abrir la primera kupela en la sidrería Gartziategi Sagardotegia al grito de "Gure Sagardo Berria"? El miércoles desvelaremos quien será el invitado/a de este año. ¡Estad atentos! • ➡ Programa: Link en la bio. #txotx2019 #sagardoberria #gartziategi #sagardoa #txotx #sidra #basquecountry #sagardoarenlurraldea #territoriodelasidra #sagardoetxea
Each txotx is a chance to try cider from a new barrel, and the differences between one kupela and its neighbor may surprise you. And there are no limits here – you can go back to the barrels as often as you like, continuing to refill your glass throughout the night.
Don’t expect a menu when you take your place around one of the communal wooden tables. Food just starts arriving – and keeps on coming! – but there’s a rhyme and reason to the sequence. There’s usually at least four courses and it’s all very traditional, rustic Basque fare; tasty, juicy stuff to be sopped up with bits of those long baguettes that top each table.
If you’re lucky, you’ll begin the feasting with a bit of chorizo cooked in cider. Fluffy and tender tortilla de bacalao (salt cod omelet) usually comes next, followed by a bacalao topped with caramelized peppers and onions. The star of this show is the txuleta, a traditional bone-in, ribeye steak of Flintstonian proportions. Salty and sizzling, crispy crusted with a juicy, rare center, it’s a thing of beauty. Dessert is local Idiazabal sheep’s milk cheese with apple paste, a Basque version of membrillo (quince paste). This sweet treat is paired with a basket of whole walnuts to crack away at (nut cracker included). It’s a beautiful ending to an epic feast, a sobremesa of lingering over those last bites and sips of cider, chatting, shelling walnuts, cracking jokes. Wrapped up in the glow of a great meal and not ready to leave just yet. So you keep on txotx-ing.
If you’re planning your next trip to San Sebastián, we hope you add a cider house visit to your list. It’s a must! Rub elbows with the locals, maybe add some Basque words to your lexicon, taste cider at its source….and feast on all that homey comfort food! If you’re not ready to go at it alone, join us for a sidreria visit to one of our favorite spots.