Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Urdaneta Becomes a Basque Txoko on April 8, a Sort of Spanish Gastronomic Society

I am a sucker for rare culinary experiences from far-away places. That's why I'm excited to hear Urdaneta is replicating a txoko, a private gastronomic society that's traditional to Spain's Basque population. While it takes place at Urdaneta on NE Alberta on April 8, the one-time event is technically a "special edition" of Basque Supper Club, the pop-up run by Urdaneta chef-owner Javier Canteras. RavTrav caught up with Javier to get the 411 on txoko.

"Back in the old, old days, only men were allowed in txokos," Javier says. "They could be held anywhere from a personal home to a shop basement, and the idea was, these guys got together and ate this fresh, fresh food — like right-off-the-boat. It was usually done right before lunch, and then they went home and ate again."

Today, txoko are run by men and women to keep the txoko tradition and historic Basque dishes alive. "You see a lot of wine being opened, a lot of singing," says Javier. "And the whole thing is about food and maybe even more importantly, the company that you're with."

A rarity: 4-year-aged Spanish jamon, bursting with meaty umami, at Urdaneta. [Photo: Mattie John Bamman]

The impetus for this special edition of Javier's Basque Supper Club is the documentary film, The Txoko Experience: The Secret Culinary Space of the Basques. Part of a larger film tour, the night includes a screening, a Q&A with scriptwriter Marcela Garces and Javier, and, naturally, a txoko-style meal inspired by Javier's childhood trips to his grandfather's txoko (tickets cost $120, including drink pairings; three-fourths sold out at last check).

"On my trips to Spain as a kid, my grandpa would always be banging on my door at 10 a.m. saying, 'Let's go.' We'd walk around town, have a couple pintxos and maybe a coffee, and then we'd arrive at his txoko to this enormous feast. It was right on the ocean near this huge fish dock, so they'd buy everything right there. We'd eat for at least a couple hours. Then we'd go home and eat the lunch my grandmother had prepared."

Javier admits his grandmother wasn't the biggest fan of txokos, for obvious reasons.

Javier says two dishes are set in stone for the April 8 dinner. There's a meaty, stew-like cazuela, featuring cider-braised chorizo, pork ribs, and blood sausage, served with talo (Javier says Basque talo resemble Mexican corn tortillas). Javier is also riffing on a traditional dish of calamari and onions, overhauling it in the form of calamari noodles with burned onion broth and caramelized onions, topped with uni, walnuts, and lime zest. The full meal will run six courses.

Pretty pintxos at Urdaneta [Photo: Facebook/Urdaneta]

"I actually met with the filmmakers during a trip to Spain a few weeks ago," says Javier. "I was inspired by some really rustic, Basque dishes."

Also, Portland food rules all: Javier notes this will be the only leg of the film tour held in an actual txoko-style environment. Indeed, with Urdaneta's intimate space, you're basically eating in the kitchen.


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