Driving from Gijón to Santiago de Compostela, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Tasmania, with the rolling green farmland broken up by eucalyptus, pine trees and ferns. Not to mention the misty rain that is all too familiar from living on the island state for over 20 years…
We had been in the north of Spain for close to a week – starting off in Basque Country, we had enjoyed the famous old town and pintxos of San Sebastián and the equally well-known San Mamés Stadium and Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.
The next stop was Asturias, in order to spend a couple of nights in Gijón. Being mid-week and pretty ordinary weather, the city struck us as a place that would be much better when visited in the middle of summer – clearly bad timing on our part. Fortunately, local CouchSurfer, Sonia agreed to meet up for a couple of hours on our last evening.
Sonia took us to Plaza del Periodista Arturo Arias in the old town, an area traditionally inhabited by fishermen. The square is rich in history, including the fact that the executioner employed by former dictator, Franco once lived in the small stone house on the northwest corner.
These days the square is home to 4 sidrerías (cider houses) and you will find young people drinking there on most nights of the week.
Sonia explained that the sidrerías used to be considered lower class establishments, however with the fall in the economy, even posh people began to frequent them and now they are considered not just back in fashion, but as a symbol of Asturias.
The flat cider needs to be poured from a height in order to oxidise it and the (roughly) 60mL serving should be drunk in one go, before the bubbles disappear. While the cider from these parts can be found in other areas of Spain, many locals believe that it loses its taste and goes bad once it passes over the mountains surrounding Asturias.
When drinking with friends, the escanciador (pourer) is required to pour for everyone in the group, prior to drinking themselves. Generally, the group will drink from 1 or 2 glasses, with each person throwing out a small amount of cider left in the bottom of the glass, in order to clean the part of the glass they drank from.
It is now law that bar staff pour inside the bar and punters pour outside, however 20 years ago, everyone used to pour their own cider inside the bars. Not even the woodchips spread over the floor could cover the dirt or smell from the inevitable spillage that occurred with each pour – this probably has a fair bit to do with the image that the sidrerías once had.
The €2.50 a bottle is well worth the experience of watching the bar staff pouring your drinks, or having a go at it yourself, let alone the taste of the cider. There was certainly no misunderstanding between Sonia and ourselves that a few bottles would make for a cheap and entertaining night out…