Everything You Need to Know About El Txikiteo

pintxos-kalimotxos

Pintxos and kalimotxos in San Sebastián

It doesn’t take long after one’s arrival to Basque Country to discover that Basque culture is distinct from Spanish culture. This shouldn’t come as a shock, since historically, Basques and Spanish are different people–but you’ll still find the odd tourist wondering where they could see a flamenco show in Bilbao (not to say it’s not possible, it’s just not at all common like in Andalucía.) 

As I’m nearly 6 months into my new life in Basque Country, I’ve discovered a few cultural traditions that I didn’t experience down in Southern Spain, the first of which is El Txikiteo (also known as Poteo).

spanish-beer-and-wine

Spanish beer and wine

What is El Txikiteo?

El Txikiteo is the simple act of a group of friends (called a cuadrilla here) getting together to ir de pintxos from bar to bar while drinking small glasses of wine or cider (txikitos), or a small serving of beer (zurito). It’s bar-hopping at it’s finest; sampling delicious local wines and specialties of the region, catching up with friends and family, and getting to try out a varied selection of bars in the area. Since they say that The Basque Country has more bars and restaurants than many European Union countries have as a whole, there’s no shortage of  places to txikitear.

pintxos, tapas, basque country

Grab all the pintxos you want directly from the bar!

When Can You Txikitear?

El Txikiteo is for the midday and evening, from about noon-3pm and 7-11pm.

Deep-fried artichoke, wrapped in bacon.

Deep-fried artichoke, wrapped in bacon.

Where in Spain can you Txikitear?

El Txikiteo is mostly done in The Basque Country, Navarra, La Rioja, Cantabria and in the northern part of Burgos.

Why Txikitear?

El Txikiteo is a social institution that’s designed for friends and family to meet up outside of the home over sips and small bites, before a sit-down meal. While it’s origins are unclear, it’s certain that it was designed to relieve the stresses of daily life!

People off to txikitear in San Sebastián

People off to txikitear in San Sebastián

How to Txikitear

Meet with your friends in one of the many zonas de pintxos; located in every Basque city (and nearly every town too!) You’ll know you’ve found a good one when you see lots of bars packed into a small area, locals with drinks in hand and a bar that’s almost too busy to take your order. Almost.

Often, friends will elect one friend to be in charge of el bote–the money that everyone pools together to ir de pinchos. This guy or gal will be the one responsible for paying the group’s tab in each location.

Then, you’ll head straight to the bar, pluck whatever pintxos tickle your fancy straight off the bar itself, order yourself a txikito or zurito, and throw your napkins to the floor when done. Yes, really! In a few minutes be ready to repeat the process all over again in the next bar…and again, and again. Bar-hopping in Basque Country is fun, fast-paced and not for the faint of heart.

De pinchos en Plaza Nueva, Bilbao

De pinchos en Plaza Nueva, Bilbao

My favorite places to Txikitear:

Bilbao

  • Calle del Maestro García Rivero
  • Calle Licenciado Pozas
  • Plaza Nueva (in the Casco Viejo)
  • Calle Somera (also in the Casco Viejo)

San Sebastián

  • Calle 31 de Agosto
  • Calle Pescadería
  • Barrio de Gros
  • Anywhere in the Parte Vieja!

Vitoria

  • Calle Eduardo Dato
  • Plaza España

 

Things I Wish the U.S.A. Would Learn From Spain

There’s no such thing as a perfect country. And even though Spain has incredible food, beaches, nightlife and culture, it also has corruption, a crisis, low wages and more. However, there are some things that my country should learn from my adopted country (and vice-versa!) that if combined, would make the end result pretty close to a perfect place. Since I’ve already complained about the things I wish Spain had, back when I was a newbie expat, I’ll leave that out and stick to just the things I wish the U.S.A. would learn from Spain:

vitoria-spain-shopping

Shops and Bars in Vitoria, Spain

Saying “hello” when entering a shop. Here in Spain, when you enter a shop, you’re expected to greet the shopkeeper and/or assistants. Back home, that expectation isn’t there and usually the employee’s will be smothering greeting you first asking you if you need any help (no).

The drawn-out goodbyes. When you go to social gathering in Spain, you’re expected to personally greet and say goodbye to each and every person there; regardless of your relationship with them. Obviously this has its limits, and isn’t meant for your late-night trips to the discoteca. Think dinner with extended family, get-togethers with groups of friends, small, intimate parties, etc. I used to HATE doing this, 1) Because I’m from the land of hugs and handshakes and giving los dos besos to someone I just met used to be weird. 2) I used to get nervous that’d I’d confuse which side of a person’s face to kiss first (left, then right) and accidentally plant one on their lips!

spanish-cafe-con-leche

A café con leche

The art of the café con leche. America, please take note. A Seattleite like myself denouncing Starbuck’s may be a bit of a sacrilege, but it’s really not that amazing. A good café con leche will trump your Grande Americano non-fat 1 pump caramel sh*t any day.

Breakfast breaks. Lots of companies allow employees a 10-15 minute breakfast break each morning at around 11 o’clock to perk up over aforementioned café con leche or gobble down a slice or tortilla or two. It’s just  enough to tide you over until the big meal of the day and it makes the day go by more quickly.

Conil de la Frontera, Spain

Conil de la Frontera, Spain

Abundant vacation days. Last year, CNN polled countries on their vacation days, and Spain topped the list with 30 days (France, Denmark Brazil and Germany also enjoy 30 days.) Back home, we’re lucky if we get 2 weeks.

The fervent love of fútbol. Ok, so we Americans have the love of the ‘other’ football going for us, but it would be nice if the emerging MLS was a bit more exciting than what it currently is. We’ll see how the state of soccer is in a few years, I have high hopes that it will continue growing each year!

children-fishing-san-sebastian

Three cuties fishing in San Sebastián

 A less individualistic society. I love the drive that many of my fellow country-men have, but the States can feel like a lonely place sometimes because we are all so damn independent. This means more focus on ourselves, and less of an importance placed on family and community–whereas in Spain, it’s the complete opposite. You’ll see families out in the bars with kids in tow, grandmas and grandpas sitting out on the ubiquitous benches chatting, and groups of friends (who’ve been in the same group of friends since childhood) meeting over cañas at what seems like all times of the day–and night.

Local businesses are abundant.  Even though the crisis is hitting small businesses hard, it’s nice to see that so many of them still exist and haven’t disappeared due to big business. I love being able to go to the local carnicería, panadería, pescadería and frutería to do my shopping and support local business.

pintxos-kalimotxos

Pintxos and kalimotxos in San Sebastián

Tapas/Pintxos Culture. In my perfect world, the tapas/pintxos culture would exist everywhere. Here, home entertaining isn’t nearly as common as it is in the States, so the local bars function, in a way, as a living room of sorts. I love going out with friends to grab small bites and sample glasses of wine. I think it’s the heart of Spanish culture, something that from north to south to east to west is basically the same experience–finding something all of the country has in common can be difficult!

What do you think your country could learn from Spain?

 

The Expat Dilemma Part 2

the-expat-dilemma

I recently wrote a post called The Expat Dilemma that seemed to resonate with several other expats. We’re an interesting group us expats–we debate where home is (if we have one at all), we teeter on the line between outsider and local, we bond over the idiosyncrasies of our adopted cultures, the things we miss back “home”, and try our darndest to steer clear of the “grass is always greener” mindset.

The Expat Dilemma that I wrote of is, essentially, this quote in more words. We want a life that seems to evade us. We want to be here AND there. We feel the heaviness of homesickness, we miss birthdays and life-long friends’ weddings and holidays with the fam–but pluck us from our expat life and put us back home, and we’ll be feeling stir-crazy and craving our next adventure in no time.

My question is; does an expat ever stop feeling “a nostalgia for the familiar and the urge for the foreign and strange” as Carson McCullers suggests, or are we constantly in limbo between the two?

I say yes to being in limbo.

I know that as long as I’m in Spain, I’ll be nostalgic for home, despite the fact that the longer I’m here the less “familiar” home is. I also know that as much as I was born with roots, I was born with wings and my wanderlust will never subside. Whether I’m appreciating a new culture within a country (like I’m doing now with the recent move) or acquainting myself with a new culture entirely, I’ll always, always, always crave what’s foreign.

Expats, what do you think? Non-expats, can you relate to this quote?