Txikifest: Txakolí & Basque Pride in NYC

I'm so pleased to welcome Julia Golden to the blog today! Julia was so gracious to cover the Txikifest event in New York City that happened a couple of weekends ago and indulge in a little bit of Basque culture (and wine!) for me. She writes over at Nowhere to Go But Everywhere about her travels and I love her passion for all things Spain. 

The heat in New York is oppressive and unforgiving. Men wipe their foreheads with handkerchiefs as ladies fan themselves with painted abanicos, unable to speak of anything but the sweat dripping down their backs. The line wraps around the block and is beginning to move slowly. The conversation shifts from complaints about the summer’s first heat wave to excited chattering all around, a musical mix of English, Spanish and Euskara. As the crowd finally shifts, we turn the corner and are greeted by smiling faces and the smell of sizzling food.

Txikifest New York City

“Welcome to Txikifest 2013,” drawls a volunteer in an accent I can’t quite pinpoint, handing us each a glass and shuffling us towards the seemingly endless sea of green bottles. This is my kind of place.

Txakoli bottles

Each year, Alex Raij and Eder Montero, owners of Chelsea’s Txikito and El Quinto Pino and Greenpoint’s La Vara, partner with Basque wineries as well as local chefs to put on Txikifest. A celebration of the culture and pride of Euskadi, the festival highlights the Basque wine,txakolí, from fifteen different wineries by offering generous samples paired with dishes from all over the world. An avid fan of wine in any form, I decided to grab a friend and head down to Chelsea last Sunday to join the fun and sample txakolí for the first time.

Txikifest Volunteers

Txikifest 2013: A Review

The festival is set up like a street fair of sorts with three tented stations, offering an escape from the sun that seems millions of miles closer in the heat of the afternoon. Each station plays host to txakolí from five distinct wineries, all chosen to pair with the dishes being cooked up on the other side of the tent.

Txakoli brand names

Poured from high above like cider to allow it to aerate, generous samples of txakolí fill our glasses and everyone in the thirsty crowd sips it eagerly. I am pleasantly surprised by the taste: light, crisp, refreshing and perfect for a summer day. It goes down so easily, in fact, that I have to hand my glass over for the next wine before I even get a chance to check out the food selection. Luckily txakolí has a lower alcohol content than most wines, or I may not have made it past the first tent!

The Food: Drool-worthy

Bottles of txakoli

Properly hydrated with a few glasses of the sparkling drink, our bellies give a little rumble and we follow our noses to the first table of food. The guys from The Hurricane Club are serving up their version of chili lobster rolls: a fresh take on lobster salad infused with sweet chili peppers, and sandwiched between two slices of buttery bread. I think this is what heaven is like.

lobster sandwich

We savor the tiny sandwiches until they disappear into crumbs, washing them down with the latter part of the five-glass flight. The dryness of the txakolí perfectly compliments the fresh lobster, and for a moment I can picture myself on the beach in San Sebastián enjoying this sigh-inducing combination.

I realize my glass is empty and snap back to reality. On to the next tent! We are treated to a rosé txakolí, a slightly fuller-bodied version of the wine we’ve been enjoying. Taking a cue from our slightly fuzzy vision, we decide to help ourselves to a plate of food before polishing off another glass and turn to find txistorra and fresh bread sizzling away on the grill. The chefs from Txikito tend to the grill, making sure the Basque cured sausage is cooked perfectly.

how to cook txistorra

The sausage is savory, spicy and slightly sweet all at the same time. Paired with the rosé, it is succulent enough to reassure this reformed vegan that meat is, in fact, the way. We mop up the juices with the warm bread as our glasses are filled yet again.

txistorra

The afternoon continues on a loop like this; a cycle of wine, finger-licking-good food, and more wine. Our favorite dish is unanimous, selecting a rice noodle crepe with pork Bolognese, so creamy and delicious that we ignore our protesting bellies and split another. Honorable mentions include the pineapple-rubbed pork tacos from La Palapa, and the veal meatball sandwich created by the kind people at Sullivan Street Bakery. Each dish has its own distinct flavors, playing with spices from every corner of the world, but somehow all work extremely well with the light flavor of the txakolí.

The Txakolí Winner

txikifest 2013

As far as the wineries go, our favorites hail from the Bizkaia province, though choosing favorites is nearly impossible. Nothing we try is anything but fantastic, with the Berroia coming out on top. It is the smoothest, most refreshing, and pairs amazingly with savory treats.

basque food

The afternoon is closed with cucumber-lime popsicles from La Newyorkina and a txalaparta performance. Traditionally played in celebration of wine or cider making, the Basque instrument is made of wood, is played with wooden sticks and accompanied by an ox horn. The pride was palpable in the players’ wide smiles and cheerful shouts, “Que siempre viva Euskadi! Viva, viva!”

txalaparta

We wander down Ninth Avenue in a txakolí-induced dream state, forgetting the heat for the first time in days. Out of the hundreds of food and wine festivals in New York, this is certainly the most unique. By pairing a little-known light sparkling wine from a little-known land with local eats, Txikifest celebrates the distinctiveness that the Basque region thrives on in a country famous for flamenco and bullfighting. Raij and Montero have found the perfect stage in Chelsea, a neighborhood that celebrates uniqueness above all else, and succeed in proving that Basque culture and cuisine is well on its way to taking over hearts and palates around the world.

For more information on Txikifest and the txakolís that were featured, check out www.txikifest.com. If you’re in New York and looking for excellent pintxos and txakolí, stop by Txikito or El Quinto Pino!

Julia is a world traveler whose heart belongs to Spain. She is trading in her life in New York for a new one in Madrid come September, following her wanderlust in pursuit of the best wine, music and stories the peninsula has to offer. A sociologist and linguist at heart, she is passionate about immersing herself in new cultures and chronicles her adventures on her blog Nowhere To Go But Everywhere. Be sure to follow here on Twitter and Instagram for real-time updates! 

Snapshots From San Sebastián

San Sebastián La Concha Beach San Sebastián Port Window Spain Sunset San Sebastián Window Spain Cathedral San Sebastián San Sebastián Port Cathedral San Sebastián Cathedral San Sebastián Plaza de la Constitución San Sebastián Jamón San Sebastián Sailing San Sebastián La Concha San Sebastián San Sebastián Port San Sebastián boys fishing

As much as I loved parts about living in Andalucía, (near-daily sunshine, I’m looking at you!) I am so happy to be in The Basque Country. The food, the people, the natural beauty, the culture and getting to live close to San Sebastián all make my heart flutter. This city is so special to me, and if I save up a good chunk of an expat pension, perhaps I’ll buy property there one day and make my lil’ dream of living there come true.

San Sebastián captures the hearts of many of its visitors…so much, that hearing anything negative about the city rarely happens. Ok, maybe a gripe or two about its priceyness, but not much outside of that. It’s a comfortable size, so it’s not sprawling and overwhelming like Madrid (which I love as well!), it’s got that world-renowned food scene that you may have heard a thing or two about, and it’s a hop and a skip away from the French border.

San Sebastián has a long and varied history: what was once a quaint fishing village is now a world-class resort town, thanks to the Queen of Spain making this city her royal summer residence at the Miramar Palace overlooking La Concha Bay. It’s also set to be the European Capital of Culture, along with Wrocław, Poland in 2016.

And did I mention how beautiful it is?

San-Seb, as I affectionately call it, has those rolling, emerald-green hills so characteristic of Basque Country, no less than three(!) beaches, and architecture that rivals the streets of Paris; it’s streets are chock-full of Belle Époque buildings. 

Come for a weekend, and you’ll want to stay forever…don’t say I didn’t warn you!

 What do you love most about San Sebastián?

 Disclosure: This post, while written by me, was sponsored by a third-party.

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