This week, we are been mostly drinking cider. Asturias, the region of Spain we are currently in, is the country’s largest producer of sidra, and what with Gijón being one of the largest cities in Asturias, the whole place smells (not entirely unpleasantly) like a farmyard.
The oldest part of Gijón, Cimadevilla, is just above the marina where Planet is, and if you climb up the slope you get to a little square which we call Cider Square. It probably has another name, but it’s always too full of people to see a sign when we arrive and we’ve always had too much sidra to care by the time we leave…
In Asturias, the cider is mainly flat. But not for long… There is not a hiss and click of a can opening to be heard in Gijón; round here the cider is served from glass bottles about two feet above your head.
Every self-respecting drinking and eating establishment in Gijón has several escanciadores; bar staff capable of pouring cider from a height into a glass tumbler at table level. You buy a bottle of cider and the escanciador or escanciadora pours you a small amount (called a culín) at a time, as shown in the picture above. The verb escanciar has no English counterpart; it means ‘to pour cider from a great height’ and I love that there is a word in Spanish solely for this purpose. Generally each bottle comes with one glass which you share, necking each shot of cider shortly after it’s poured. This way the sidra gets aerated and fizzy. And after all a while, everything else does too…
In restaurants, there are generally designated metal booths that the escanciadores pour cider over and which catch any spillages. Amazingly though, most people we’ve seen pouring cider so far have huge skill at this and manage somehow to get the cider into the glass without missing. The only thing is, there’s something about the look of concentration on their faces, the shape of the metal booth, and the sound and appearance of cider being poured slowly in a small quantity into an empty glass that is reminiscent of something else…. And so every time it happens we struggle to keep a straight face.
In Cimadevilla, in our favourite bar El Lavaderu, you are encouraged to pour it yourself. Or at least you can either sit at the bar and have your bottle poured for you, or you can buy a bottle, put down a 1 euro deposit for a glass and go outside and join the botellón (lugger lean) where everyone else is sitting around in group pouring cider and passing round the glass. When you buy the bottle, you get given a marble. If you return the glass and the marble, you get your 1 euro back. We did not get our 1 euro back.
It’s harder than it looks pouring cider; if it were water in the bottle I’m fairly sure it would be easier, but with cider there is more at stake. Clearly you neither want to waste good cider nor end up with good cider all over your clothes and no washing machine. It may taste nice, but it certainly doesn’t smell nice after a few hours, as corroborated by the state of Cider Square at 2am. It’s a good thing it gets pressure hosed down every morning.