Thursday afternoon saw the skyline of Madrid turn into the brown landscape of Castilla y León and then finally into the lush hills of Cantabria. For this adventure, Kara and I were with our new amigos and pleasant hosts, Gustavo and Sergio. Gustavo and Kara had met through an intercambio (language exchange), and when we hung out last week a visit to the north was proposed. Would Kara and I be interested in joining them?
Besides sight-seeing, highlights from this weekend include playing Trivial Pursuit, spending time outside, lingering over coffee, and, for one language nerd, the chance to hear the language isolate of Euskara (!!!!!!). Of course, we tried new foods as well. The town of Santoña is known for anchovies, so we split a tin, fishing for each silver sliver with toothpicks. Apart from the salty newness of anchovies, however, the most memorable meal came at a cider house in the Basque Country.
Aginaga was the name of the cider house, which is located in a town of the same name. Our group–Kara, Gustavo, Sergio, and myself–arrived at 10 p.m. and was handed a menu was in both Euskara and Spanish. We were lead to the middle of a long dining hall and seated between two different parties. I later learned from their website that the restaurant seats 300. This particular place offered 7 different ciders, which were housed in barrels built into the wall.
Patrons served themselves with a flourish. You see, cider tastes best when aerated. It is tricky to obtain this quality, as one must hold the clay drinking vessel as far away as possible from the barrel’s spout—nearly to the ground. About a foot away from each barrel was a hollow container meant to catch the excess liquid. These helped a bit, but the floor grew slick and frothy as the night progressed.
Rubbing elbows with the locals
Gustavo fills up at station #5. Note the ubiquitious clay jars.
We tried all 7 and agreed that number 5 was the best–not too strong, but not too weak. What else could accompany our typical drinks but typical dishes? We had chistorra (a greasy, delicious sausage), tortilla de bacalao (omelette with cod), a lettuce salad, and a hunk of chuleta de buey (ox) so fresh it was slashed into sections within our view For dessert there was cheese and membrillo (quince paste [think cubes of jelly]), and a basket of walnuts. Of course there was also a lengthy loaf of bread to sop up the meat juices.
The tortilla de bacalao was much bigger than what this huge spoon makes it appear
Salad and the ox
No background is complete without soccer
Gustavo and Kara acting a little nutty
Gustavo, Kara, Sergio, and myself take a tipsy photograph to commemorate our seventh glass. Ahhhh cider !