Bacalhau! Taste the Sea…

My first visit to Portugal was in April 2017. We flew from Dublin to Porto where we stayed with a friend of my husband’s – they used to be neighbours in France before he returned to Portugal with his parents at the age of fifteen. They had not seen one another in thirty years! But, like all close friendships, once they began reminiscing about their youth the thirty years that had separated them rapidly dwindled; it was like old times. We arrived on a Friday evening; we took the train to the other side of town where Stefano came to collect us. It was a warm, or rather hot, evening; you must remember that we live in Ireland which has an Oceanic climate whereas Portugal has a temperate climate. Anyway, he and his wife welcomed us with warmth to their home. We met their daughter, son-in-law and their first grandchild who was three at the time. His wife, what a great cook, prepared a feast of fresh fish and fresh vegetables for each meal. 

On Saturday we took the tram to Porto. We fell in love in the place; the architecture – my husband and I have a deep appreciation for structural design; the vibrant colours; the cafés and restaurants and so much more the list is endless… We were, nevertheless, surprised at the amount of French people. French was spoken at every street corner! We spent the day meandering through the narrow lanes. We lunched at the Café Majestic, a place that takes you back to the Belle Époque. We ordered the cod dish which was un délice – delicioso – delicious. You cannot visit Portugal without tasting, at least once, their cod dishes – Bacalhau – salted cod. It set us up for the rest of the day. We spent Sunday with our generous hosts; a quiet and tranquil day in the suburban countryside, away from the hustle-and-bustle.

The following morning, Monday, Stefano accompanied us to the nearest tram station. We headed into town to catch the Rede Expressos to Lisbon. This is Portugal’s main intercity coach company, providing an efficient service between Porto and Lisbon. We took the 9 o’clock coach and arrived in Lisbon, three hours later, in time for lunch. We found Lisbon so different to Porto. You could tell it is the capital city; more ‘things’ happening, nonetheless, we have a preference for Porto but that’s just us. It turned out to be the eve of the commemoration of Portugal’s revolution that night; there was plenty music and other festivities on Lisbon’s main square – Praça do Comércio – Commerce Square. Freedom Day, April 25, is a national holiday. So we dropped our luggage at the hotel and then went exploring Lisbon, well, in the first instance it was exploring for a place to eat; it was lunchtime! We happened upon a food emporium – the Time Out Mercado – a wonderfully restored warehouse that now houses over 30 eateries. There is everything from traditional Portuguese food such as Bacalhau and Pastel de nata – the infamous custard tart – to Asian, American and other European influences; fine wines and local beers. There is something for everyone. There are culinary classes and musical events. So really it’s a must… That evening we came across a Portuguese restaurant – near the Cais do Sodré train station – that ne paie pas de mine – does not look like much from the outside – but let me tell you that the food is simply extraordinary. We were probably the only tourists there! That’s how you know a place has a good reputation – it attracts the locals! So we went back there the following day to lunch and dine. Fish and seafood amazingly scrumptious; the grilled sardines –not small little ‘things’ but decent size – were in a league of their own.

We visited the Museu Nacional do Azulejo – the National Tile Museum; it is an art museum dedicated to the traditional tilework of Portugal, known as azulejo. Housed in the former Madre de Deus Convent, the museum’s collection is one of the largest of ceramics in the world; an escapade not to be missed. We also visited the Belém Tower – Torre de Belém – thatserved both as a fortress and as a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon. Since 1983 it is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was a warm and sunny day so we decided to walk back to Lisbon centre, taking in the town’s architecture as we went. Not forgetting our trip on the infamous Tram 28!

Watch out!

It was a visit that was both short and sweet. We found the Portuguese to be very friendly and hospitable. We hope to return soon and I’d advise anyone who hasn’t been to Portugal – Lisbon and Porto – to plan their next trip there; you won’t regret it…

Food for Thought: Food as an Important Part of Our Cultural Identity

There are many ‘things’ that connect people to their sense of identity. Personally, I think food establishes a strong link to identity as it is part of one’s culture. If you ask any French or Italian person they will wholeheartedly agree. Food is where memories are made; smells floating in the air, sizzling and chopping sounds, touch of different produce, sight of a delightful plate, and finally the taste… need I say more! Well, as a matter of fact I will…  

When I travel it is not just about escaping the often damp and wet Irish weather, but rather exploring new places and the people that bring meaning to these very places. For me food is an integral part of the voyage. I am passionate about food as it is part of our identity. I appreciate the awakening of my taste buds with new flavours and sharing such sensorial experiences with others, especially my husband who is also passionate about food.

So next time you decide to indulge in a trip to Paris, endeavour to sip your espresso at a ‘real’ Parisian cafe rather than at one of the globally standardised coffee shops! In Italy, bite into an authentic pizza – Margherita is basic but best! – the typical Neapolitan pizza. If you enjoy a great feed of fresh fish especially cod then off to Portugal where they prepare cod in a thousand ways.

Embrace the local culinary identity. Travelling is an adventure that should encompass the taste buds so bring the experience into your plate.

But let’s not forget we have great quality produce in Ireland and especially here in Cork! Both city and county have interesting food markets where local excellence is a trade mark. Yet, despite these resources, Ireland is not recognised for its culinary identity; and consequently, we, Irish, tend to belittle the food distinctiveness of our country. However have you ever asked yourself why we export so much of our produce; why so many foreigners appreciate our Milleens Cheese, produced in Eyeries, West Cork, or Union Hall Smoked Fish, or Clonakilty Black pudding, or our dairy products such as our best butter produced from grass-fed cows… the list is endless. I’m not talking about intensive farming; I’m encouraging you to think about local food at its best. We are fortunate enough to have a rich natural food resource on our doorstep, that is, seafood. Seafood was appreciated by our ancestors, by coastal and inland dwellers alike and would have been a regular part of their diet.  So next time someone makes a comment about our lack of culinary identity, think about our salted ling traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve or our infamous Bacon & Cabbage, and all the new ways in which we can use our local quality produce to embrace traditional food with a contemporary twist. Our senses of identity are created and shaped through our engagement in practices that connect us to particular places. So what are ye waiting for? Go shopping, get your pots and pans out and start experimenting…

I’ve attached a link to an article in the Irish Times; enjoy the read: https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/food-and-drink/bastille-day-the-french-mostly-know-nothing-about-irish-food-and-cooking-1.3946642